Liberal Democrat Fringe - What do you think makes a good education?

21 September 2010

Summary of the joint Cambridge Assessment, ASCL and AoC fringe event at the Liberal Democrat conference which asked panellists to discuss what defines a good education as part of a wider discussion on education and education reform.

The event was attended by Chris Morecroft, president of the Association of Colleges (AoC) also the Principal of Worcester College of Technology and former Principal at Dearne Valley College in South Yorkshire; Brian Lightman, General Secretary of the Association of School & College Leads (ASCL) and former head teacher of St Cyres School near Cardiff, Tim Oates, the Group Director of Assessment Research and Development at Cambridge Assessment and Tessa Munt, Liberal Democrat MP for the Wells Constituency in Somerset and a school governor, trainer and former teacher and lecturer.

Addressing the question, "what do you think makes a good education?", Tim Oates, pointed out the importance of the Cambridge Assessment's International scope and how this allowed them to place the British system within an international context, allowing for broader insight into the current education system in this country. He noted that the abundance of examination and qualifications hinders the education of students and how "the pursuit of high grades is having an effect on the quality of education”.

Mr Oates also pointed out the neglect of vocational studies and the need for routes within the British education system rather than a focus on purely academic studies, drawing on examples of other countries, as he told the audience: "Frankly I think internationally the jury's out on education routes. Many of the most advanced nations running highly affective education systems actually have routes. In the Netherlands you'll be choosing at ten whether you want a vocational or academic education...Vocational systems are something that have been grossly neglected in our system and we think the inappropriate pursuit of clearly distinct academic and vocational options has actually ripped the heart out of the vocational offering."

Following this the General Secretary of the ASCL, Brian Lightman, addressed education being focused at creating "rounded individuals, a balance of skill knowledge and experiences. That knowledge and skills are not separated but highly integrated,” he argued.

Mr Lightman spoke of the need for all students to have access to both a vocational and academic study and for the resulting qualifications to be comprehensible to employers, students and learning providers. He echoed the previous speakers dissatisfaction with assessment and league tables driving learning but also noted the importance of assessment on learning. He pointed out the new freedoms and reform in performance tables, adding that the delicate manner in which it must be done stating: "We also need to make sure that when we do that our accountability systems move to bring in some incentives for collaboration so that people can work together and they can bring the system together rather than just working in isolation and ending up with an education system that is good for some people but leaves others behind and denies children their education if those schools go to the wall or if they fail to achieve."

He also noted the importance of the self-accountability of the education system to keep high standards and the importance of assessment leading to independent learning rather than a culture of education based on results.

President of the Association of Colleges (AoC), Chris Morecroft, discussed what he believed to be the three fundamentals of a good education, ambition, support, and independence. Beginning with ambition, Mr Morecroft pointed out the wide array of forms education paths take and the need to support mature and part-time students who take on higher education as well as those younger applicants. He repeated the views of the first two speakers of the importance of vocational study and alternate aims of students as opposed to those focused on by the government and media, telling the audience: "I'm concerned that there are some people, perhaps with influence, who've spent their life gaining academic qualifications at an ever increasing level who think that vocational qualifications are not of high quality enough or are not challenging enough and restrict their participants' ambition. It may be surprising to some that there are people who do not want to go to university their ambition might be to learn a skill, be quite good at it and learn some money at it and that's ambitious too."

He went on to discuss the importance of support, especially in the context of the education maintenance allowance as well as the 175,000 young carers in the UK, and special needs students who need the support from the British education support system to ensure they gain good qualifications.

Mr Morecroft finished by pointing out the importance of independence for students when deciding their career paths and decisions on college and university. Rather than the current culture of students being pressured into higher education without the support and guidance to know what is best for them, the President of AoC wished for all households with children in the years 10 and 11 to be given information to make the choice that is right for them.

Finally Tessa Munt MP spoke of the importance of inspiration in education as well as the misguided views of the Government and ruling bodies as to what makes a good educational organisation, giving the example of a local vocational institution specialising in agriculture. This was unable to pass government regulator standards whilst it still provided high quality services for students who opt-out of conventional education systems and follow a vocation more suitable to them, he added.

Ms Munt claimed that measurements of education are more abstract than simply examination results and guidelines, and should be focused on individual needs rather than expectation.

In her opinion, schools need to take more logical routes in its teaching (giving the example of history being taught in an overly linear manner.) She detailed the role of schools could play in acting as parents in some instances, and the need for free milk to provide for students from households where funds are not available for breakfast.

Report written by DeHavilland
Monday, 20 September 2010
www.dehavilland.co.uk