Emperor's new clothes for education

09 May 2008

The confused emerging framework for UK education is a case of the emperor's new clothes, said the chief executive of the Royal Society of Chemistry today.

Dr Richard Pike has warned that unprecedented restructuring of education over the next decade, coupled with a perceived lack of clarity in implementation, risks missing the point, while leaving the economy still unable to compete effectively within a global market.

"Through the Leitch Review of Skills, and also the introduction of Diplomas, this country will experience in the next few years the most profound change in secondary and tertiary education for over half a century.

"These will be delivered by two separate departments within government (DIUS and DCSF), though both sets of plans have still to be fleshed out. The methodologies and qualifications have some unique features, untried elsewhere in the world, which raise questions in the minds of many observers over quality control and international comparability," he said. 

"What is clear, also, is that three essential success factors have yet to be addressed: a shortage of well-qualified teachers, lack of discipline and expectations in the classroom, and grade inflation where target pass-rates are a dominating element."

The proposals, he added, represented a massive challenge for the wider teaching and training profession, which is already suffering from 'initiative fatigue', and will require significant additional funding in a country that now has the world's largest annual trade deficit outside the US.

"Lord Leitch in televised proceedings has referred to UK productivity and skills as 'mediocre', and indeed we continue to slide down the PISA scale of educational comparability, but this conceals an enormous range within this country from world-class to abjectly poor. Perversely, funding for graduates to up-skill by taking a second bachelor's degree in science and engineering has now been frozen by the government." 

The science community is increasingly concerned, said Dr Pike, that the right evidence is not being presented, and detailed scrutiny undertaken, in a way that will lead to the most practicable outcome. 

"So long as the government's promise of 3,000 more science teachers remains unfulfilled, and a grade C pass at GCSE can be achieved with a mark of typically just 40%, no progress will be made with the current 'long tail' of under-achievement, whatever system is in place.

"Indeed, more successful implementation of the current system alone would go a long way to rectifying our present skills problems."

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