The UK education system and how it is failing students and society

Whether it’s transport, medicine or leisure, the modern world would be almost unrecognisable to a Victorian. However, there is one exception- education. If a Victorian were to walk into a modern classroom they would notice very little change. How is it that the key cog in society that prepares the next generation for adulthood and determines whether a country will prosper or falter has gone unchanged for a century? Instead we have a high-pressure environment that forces teens into depression, fails to provide the skills required for working life and enough key workers and reinforces inequality. This failure to innovate education is one of the country’s greatest issues, yet it could be easily fixed. One of the greatest problems facing the UK is obesity. According to the UN ¼ of British adults are obese (with many more being deemed overweight) and obesity levels in the UK have more than trebled in the last 30 years and more than half the population could be obese by 2050. One of the contributing factors is a reduction in sport participation. It’s a school’s responsibility to ensure the wellbeing of its pupils, including their physical health. Therefore, I suggest that sport should feature far more prominently in education. Teenagers should be doing at least 10 hours of sport a week. Not only does it make them happier and healthier but it’s been scientifically proven to enhance their education. Furthermore, more needs to be done to encourage younger children to start sports early and not to drop them in their teens as this is the root cause of the fall in participation. Arguably the greatest issue facing children is their deteriorating mental health. The proportion of children experiencing a mental disorder has increased from one in nine in 2017 to one in six in July 2020. That is ridiculously high. Whilst increased sport participation would do a lot to reduce these numbers it wouldn’t eradicate mental health issues. The pressures placed on children by school contribute massively to these issues. For instance, A level students often exceed the legal working hours. It is therefore no wonder we have a mental health crisis. What the government needs to do is reduce time wasted studying old plays and instead focus on ensuring every child leaves school with the skills required to live in the adult world. For example, every child should leave school with a full understanding of sexual health, taxes, voting, survival skills, etc. Without these key life skills many children make mistakes that have serious repercussions such as teenage pregnancy or falling into debt. These issues have a knock on effect all across society and reinforce poverty and inequality. Therefore, the introduction of a life skills subject would be invaluable. It would lead to more rounded children who are better equipped to succeed in the adult world. Furthermore, the requirement for children to learn Shakespeare and Pythagoras when it provides no benefit for them outside of better grades is archaic and a serious waste of money and time. Very few adults outside of engineering or architecture have ever used Pythagoras. Why not reform the whole curriculum so that it’s better geared to producing useful workers, rather than textbook worshippers. This would go a long way towards fixing the UK’s productivity puzzle which leads to lower wages and longer working hours. If this problem was rectified people would be happier and richer. Examples of potential reforms include focusing on: reading and professional writing skills, not memorising Shakespeare, making Stem subjects appropriate for engineers and doctors (they should be optional for those not wishing to go into STEM work), climate change and where Solihull is, not the rock cycle. Furthermore, art, music and DT should be optional for pupils who have no interest but for those that are should be encouraged to continue the subjects all the way through their education rather than dropping them at GCSE because they are tedious and excessively difficult. These measures would lead to a diversification of the curriculum and far better participation, as work would be more meaningful and engaging. It would also lead to more creativity and innovation which would benefit the country massively as both the economy and culture would flourish. Unfortunately, schools reinforce inequality due to massive variations in the quality of education, leading to some of the country’s brightest students languishing in poverty ridden schools with few passionate teachers. However, there are some very easy fixes. The government should run one exam board, remove higher and lower papers to stop the capping of talented students and no class should go untaught (especially those taking exams). However, the most necessary reform is the improvement in the quality of teaching. For instance, in Finland almost every teacher has a Master’s degree and they are expected to provide high quality teaching because they are paid a fair wage for the amount of work they do and their importance in preparing the next generation. Therefore, the government must raise teacher’s salaries in order to attract the best candidates. However, teachers should be closely monitored, with those failing to meet standards being sacked. This shouldn’t be done by analysing league tables but by asking children whether their education has been enriched and tracking progression. Moreover, teachers teaching less able students should be especially commended for improving students, even if they don’t achieve top grades. The government should set high standards for everyone and should refuse to allow pupil to be left behind. If these reforms were implemented, not only would inequality be reduced but every pupil would benefit and society would be provided with capable workers who are able to work in more challenging and financially rewarding sectors. Whilst the current education system is in a dire state, this could be easily be rectified with a few simple tweaks. They would benefit society massively and provide a platform to rebound from lockdown and rebuild the economy as a centre for innovation at the forefront of technology and science, rather than a backwater.

 

 

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