'Purpose and quality of Education in England' web forum

As part of our inquiry into the purpose and quality of education in England, the Education Committee would like to hear your views on what the education system is for. Before submitting to the forum please consider the following points:

  • How much of  a focus should there be on preparing young people for employment through focusing on skills such as numeracy and literacy?
  • What role should the education system play in developing 'soft' skills, such as leadership and communication?
  • How much should education prepare people for adult life in terms of areas such as healthy relationships and personal finance?

Send us your comments on the following question:

  • What should the main purpose of education be? What should young people be taught to fulfil that purpose?

The deadline for comments is midday, Monday 25 January 2016.

Comments will be used to inform the Committee’s thinking on this issue. This forum is pre-moderated and comments that breach the online discussion rules will not be posted.

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123 Responses to Send a comment to Purpose and quality of education forum

William Aizlewood says:
January 20, 2016 at 07:44 PM
Young people should be taught repeatable life lessons and skills, the ability to create monthly finances and how to use a checkbook. Every child in the uk should have basic levels of core skills such as numeracy literacy and computing, every child should be given the opportunity to specialise in a variety of topics that exites them and gives them the wanting to learn more.
Gemma G says:
January 20, 2016 at 01:09 PM
The purpose of education should be to prepare children well for success and happiness in their future life. This includes having the necessary skills in numeracy, literacy and other subjects but also having the personal attributes needed in order to use their subject knowledge effectively e.g. a growth mindset, resilience, and being articulate as well as looking after their own mental health though education in happiness strategies such as mindfulness. Education should not be a race but the development of skills and knowledge at a pace which allows a child to value and enjoy learning and develop curiosity in areas which they then have the time and space to explore and develop. Too many high stakes tests have made this impossible in recent years.
Alex Darby says:
January 19, 2016 at 11:45 PM
I very strongly feel that the purpose of education is to equip people with the knowledge, skills, understanding, and experience to prepare them for their adult life as independent members of society.

All four of these aspects are necessary for a rounded and effective education, but only knowledge and skills can be directly taught; understanding and experience must be constructed in the mind of the learner by active engagement with the subject matter in a concrete learning context.

Educational research has consistently demonstrated that deep understanding of subject matter comes primarily from application of domain specific knowledge to solve domain related problems. This is equally true whether we are talking about mathematics, martial arts, brick laying, or any other subject matter.

This applied concrete learning context encourages generalisation of knowledge, critical reflection & evaluation, analysis & synthesis and so on. A focus on deeper principles and the relationships between the facts. Not only does this improve long term recall, but it also improves the ability to generalise from that knowledge out into other subject areas - domain specific knowledge becomes potentially-domain-generic principle.

This is particularly effective when the assessment supports this mode of learning, e.g. ongoing and regular formative assessments, backed up by direct summative assessment based on artefacts produced by the learners in order to demonstrate what they have learned.

This same research has also consistently found that a focus on rote learning of abstract knowledge actively encourages a focus on detailed facts in isolation from each other, which itself results in shallow learning - poor long term recall and a poor ability to reason about the knowledge or generalise it into other domains.

Here's a link to a paper that offers a good summary of the findings of many other studies into assessment and learning; you should find that it and the papers it cites back up the picture I've been painting above:

I don't personally agree with the assertions of others that ofsted should be disbanded, as someone has to be responsible for auditing schools in order to maintain quality standards and consistency of education.

I do however feel that rather than be there to punish and admonish staff, ofsted's role should be to monitor, assess, and support schools - apportioning central government support in terms of funds and expert staff to help schools that are struggling to improve.

No other job than teachers are expected to spend the majority of their unpaid free-time working - they may get a lot of what looks like holiday but the educational system of this country would long since have collapsed if teachers didn't have this time to recuperate from what for many effectively equates to a job with 49 weeks a year of constant, brutal, unpaid overtime.

Teachers need to be given the time in their working day to plan their lessons and do all the necessary assessment for the students they teach; to have the time to treat their students like individuals and to give them the chance to gain understanding as well as learn facts, the space to apply skills to gain experience, and to assess students in the ways that best support their long term learning rather than those which are easiest to print in league tables.

The educational standards of a country ultimately determine its success and happiness. We need to take the welfare of teachers and students more seriously than the personal agendas of individual politicians or even political ideologies - all decisions made concerning education should be made by a panel of experts chosen by the teachers who they represent; and all those decisions should be based on evidence and research not on personal opinion.

As a final note, it seems that we are currently holding up the Chinese education system as an ideal. I have met members of several Chinese educational delegations who have visited the UK. Several of them were keen to understand what they are doing wrong because they have a "generation of graduates who are good at exams and not much else" (that is a verbatim quote!) and they want to understand what we do in the UK that makes us such a creative and innovative society.

In summary, I strongly feel that we need to:

* treat our educators with respect and support them...

* particular to remove the free overtime expected of teachers

* de-emphasise exams and move towards primarily continuous and coursework based assessment

* take the full range of non-core subjects more seriously (especially art)

* legislate to prevent changes to education without solid peer reviewed evidence to support the fact that it will improve educational outcomes for the learners

* help our children find out what they're good at and how they can use that to make a living
Susie Hewitt says:
January 19, 2016 at 04:21 PM
As a mother of 3 and a primary school governor I would ask for 3 things:

1. For schools to be measured on more than data (i.e. league tables), i.e. pupil + parent's views of the school; soft skills i.e. phse, citizenship, good mental health
2. Stop academisation. The local authorities and volunteer governors are not financially rewarded or driven to ensure good schooling and will have different kpi's and success criteria than a private company.
3. Invest in our most valuable assets - the teachers, their motivation, their pay + conditions, their perceived value to our society.
Neil Wallis says:
January 19, 2016 at 10:42 AM
I write as a long-time school governor and parent otherwise active in my two sons' education.

I believe that we are failing our children by narrowing how we measure educational 'success' to that which can be easily measured. In elevating examination success and 'league table position' we are failing to capture so much that which has great value: desire to learn, creativity, self-confidence, cooperation etc

We are teaching our children that what matters is how to 'tick the boxes'; to pass the tests as interpreted (over and over again) by increasingly demoralised and disempowered teachers. We are teaching schools to bend - or break - the rules to get the best results.

We are failing to value so much that we all know has value.

We are compounding this by taking control from local authorities (even if sometimes bureaucratic, they are/were responsible for our children's best interests) and handing it to unaccountable private organisations whose 'bottom line' is the league tables. Driven by a flawed measure of educational 'success' and unhindered by local authority influence and - in many cases - local parent and community engagement these academy trusts are making the situation much worse more quickly, while feathering their own nests.

In my view, there are three key areas to be addressed:

1) Abolish the league tables and replace measures of 'success' with a much more nuanced approach, informed by local parents, pupils and teaching staff.
2) Re-establish and vastly strengthen community involvement. Parents, local employers and other local stakeholders must have more of a role in how our schools are run and how our children are educated.
3) Look to Finland - Re-empower our teachers; train them better; trust them to do their best for our children. Abolish Ofsted and replace it with a body designed to support teachers in the introduction of international best practice.
Pat Beazley says:
January 19, 2016 at 08:10 AM
The purpose of education should be to inform young people about the world, how they interact with it and the people who live in the world.
This doesn't just mean facts; it also means what you have called 'soft' skills as well as relationships, finance, community and a sense of purpose for their lives. The Arts, music and physical activity should also be a priority.
Richard Grantham says:
January 18, 2016 at 11:50 AM
I think that as a parent, the main purpose of education should be to help my children to develop into well-rounded adults with all of the necessary skills that they will need to thrive in the 21st century. I want schools to work alongside me as a parent to make this happen. It is important that they get good exam results but the picture is so much bigger than this increasingly narrow view of what education is about.I personally would like my children to be put under less pressure to perform memory tests of a very narrow and in some cases, 20th century body of knowledge and be given more opportunities to develop the kind of skills that will stand them in good stead in an ever-changing future jobs market e.g. resilience, self-learning, creativity, enterprise and the ability to cope with rapid change.
David Moores says:
January 17, 2016 at 04:15 PM
The purpose of education should be to help young people to become effective, enthusiastic and independent learners, responsible citizens and caring people. The school curriculum needs therefore to be far wider than Literacy and Numeracy and should give the same status and support to the humanities and the arts -drama, music, design - as it does to Maths and English.
Richard Eaton says:
January 17, 2016 at 11:40 AM
I think that young people need to be prepared both for life and for the modern workplace. Its unfortunate that the new 2014 National Curriculum failed to do this. We still have a major emphasis on things like handwriting and no emphasis at all on typing skills and yet this is completely opposite to the tools used in the modern workplace.
As a primary school teacher and deputy head I feel that we end up very focussed on trying to get pupils to achieve all the new curriculum expectations; working in an environment of relentless drive for improvement we end up squeezing out of the curriculum the equally as important foundation subjects which foster necessary skills such as creativity and lateral thinking. Today's children are expected to achieve such high standards by the time they leave primary school, but it would be better if the new curriculum had followed the advice of the review of the old National Curriculum and taken out content allowing children more time to gain a deeper, broader understanding of the objectives specified.
Timo Hannay says:
January 16, 2016 at 10:01 PM
The purpose of education is enable children to become happy, constructive and productive members of society. It is less about learning facts than about acquiring life skills and a love of knowledge, including self-knowledge, in all its different forms.