The case for education reform – Magnus in TES

Posted on 19th March 2019

In an article for TES, Magnus Bashaarat argues that GCSEs do not prepare students for work and further study, that government’s obsession with STEM subjects needs revisiting, and that a major curriculum rethink is required if vocational education is to serve young people well and match the ambition of businesses and far-sighted universities.

Magnus proposes that GCSE reforms have diminished the learning experience for a generation of children. Universities and businesses, he says, are realising that GCSE exams are placed arbitrarily and meaninglessly at a point along what should be a continuous learning and developing experience at school for young people.

He explains: “GCSEs stifle creative teaching, with the curriculum divided into vast subject silos, only a small number of which are currently in favour with its political architects. However, the orthodoxy of deeming some educational subjects worthy and others less so is suspect.”

The educationalist Bill Lucas has written in TES that a focus on STEM subjects at school is not sufficient for would-be engineers. Rather, he says, the world-class civil engineering department at UCL has shown that undergraduates do not need maths or science at A level in order to excel. Unfortunately, observes Magnus, UCL appears to be an outlier among the so-called ‘high value’ universities, which remain wedded to the same old combinations of A levels for evidence of suitability. He is encouraged, however, that many of the ‘new’ universities, the former polytechnics, offer imaginative programmes in emerging creative and technological fields, and are flexible (whilst still demanding) in their entry requirements.

Magnus remains concerned that secondary-level vocational education has not kept pace with the vision and ambition of universities such as these, with enrolments and qualifications in key industry sectors having fallen dramatically since 2010, and the uptake of apprenticeships disappointing. University Technical Colleges have had a high failure and closure rate, with more than half of enrolled students dropping out.

He concludes: “For a reminder of what education might look like in our schools and colleges, we need look no further than the 2004 Tomlinson Report. The report recommended replacing GCSEs and A levels with a diploma covering both academic and vocational pathways, and so allowing for their combination. Crucially, the authors favoured diverse assessment methodologies, and encouraged the starting of vocational work early – at 14. Such an approach would bring the opportunity to properly embed vocational education in our schools.”

Read the full article on the TES website here (subscription may be necessary).

TES | Magnus Bashaarat |Tomlinson Report | Bill Lucas