'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

Sarah May says:
January 16, 2016 at 08:25 AM
There is more than one purpose to education in England. The balance between the many purposes is complex and the assessment of the system and the assessment of children need to be decoupled.

At a basic level the education system centralises the development of children so that their parents are available for other activities. It is a baby sitting service - this is not derisive but core. People expect schools to help raise their children but they are uncomfortable (and at times feel guilty) about this.

In addition, schools help children become used to the large groups of unrelated and unchosen people they will have to work and interact with throughout life, how to cope with the social and group dynamics, the power systems and struggles.

Then education can also help develop skills and understanding that are poorly distributed in a wider group - so a child who's parents don't read well, or who don't understand astrophysics, or play music, may still be able to enjoy those things, develop them and use them in life.

There are many calls for schools to prepare children for employment, but these are increasingly absurd. The employment landscape changes so fast, we have no idea what detailed employment skills will be useful (beyond those above of being well developed, balanced people, comfortable in groups)

There is an important role that schools play in democracy, developing the capacity for children to move beyond the groups they meet daily to take responsibility for society more widely. But this conflicts with much 'citizenship' teaching, which is focussed on passing on social norms rather than learning to think critically and see culture as something changeable and in our control.

The current system of assessment, especially with the new national curriculum is focussed on the retention of facts and received knowledge. This is foolish because the availability of those things (and the chance to check them at any time) is higher than ever. The skill that is most important in the age of the internet is critical thought. The ability to judge statements and evidence, to think about their implications and to discuss them in productive ways.

My greatest concern with the question being addressed is that it is teleological - it focusses on the what education may produce. Children spend at least 12 years of their life in education, those 12 years are important for themselves. Children should feel happy, cared for, safe and excited in that time.
David Martin says:
January 15, 2016 at 06:17 PM
The main purpose of education is to prepare young people to be productive members of our society through their work, their family life and their wider lives. 'Society' in this context refers to local community, nation and world. In an increasingly globalised world young people need to build tolerance and understanding through developing skills in language and cultural bridge-building. The world faces many challenges: rapidly developing technology, climates change, conflict and terrorism and economic uncertainty to name but a few. Our people need to be educated to face up to and respond creatively and positively to these challenges.
Clare Moody says:
January 14, 2016 at 12:42 PM
I believe that we are crushing our childrens' creativity in so many primary and secondary schools and crushing new models of schools trying to achieve something outside mainstream thinking. We really need a radical shift , we know things are wrong but we do nothing about it.
Natalie Johnson says:
January 13, 2016 at 07:28 AM
I feel it is good that children consider life within their community both on their age specific level and also for future. Children are exposed to things very young now so the more prepared they are the better. In my previous nursery children would be able to go to the local shops to learn about buying things and to handle money. Real life experiences which combines curriculum content is so beneficial to children.
Children build relationships from very young ages too and it is important to support the idea of healthy relationships through friendships at a young age and to further explore other relationships as they get older.
Parental participation and involvement in curriculum is also hugely beneficial to children and it is important that families and schools can show their relationship as positive.
Ed Cadwallader says:
January 12, 2016 at 09:32 AM
The purpose of Education should be to motivate all students to master the curriculum and to equip them with the skills and desire to keep learning throughout their lives. The failure to provide appropriate incentives for this to happen is the biggest weakness of the current structure of school. Most children are average academically so the deal for them is ‘work hard and we’ll tell you you’re average’ – a weak incentive. For the lowest academic achievers, often the poorest children, the deal is ‘work hard and we’ll tell you you’re below average’. This is a strong disincentive to work and it leads schools to devote resources to coerce children to act contrary their perceived interests. The incentive problem is compounded by the weak correlation between effort and academic success: a clever child can, with minimal effort, surpass the achievements of a harder-working but less intelligent peer. This leads children to conclude that the crucial ingredient of success is intelligence not effort.
A curriculum wholly comprising of academic subjects will always suffer from these drawbacks because some children are more academically able than others. I propose therefore that all children should, in teams of four or five, set up and run small businesses during school time. The skills they would learn directly from this, team working, personal responsibility, interacting professionally with the outside world, are valuable in their own right. However, the effect on academic learning would be an even greater advantage.
Children would see that you don’t necessarily need to understand quadratic equations to be a business success but you do need the maths skills to keep accounts. You don’t need to understand the nuances of poetry but you do need to be able to communicate clearly in writing. They would further see that hard work is more strongly correlated with success in the real world than in the classroom.
Teachers could say to pupils struggling academically ‘you’re gaining useful practical experience that employers value, if you can raise your academic achievement to an average level then you’ll be in a strong position to get any job you want.’ In other words, a more diverse curriculum changes the meaning of being academically average from failure to success.
Paul Allen says:
January 11, 2016 at 09:11 PM
My comment as far as the purpose of education is two-fold. 1. To provide the opportunities for every individual to identify and fulfill their potential as a human being. 2. To develop each individual so that they can contribute to the wealth, health and prosperity of our nation. These 2 aims are not mutually exclusive, yet there is a fair amount of historical evidence around (including the current emphasis on certain subjects over others) to suggest that there are many who think they are - at least for the majority. Plenty of 'soapbox' material available from this end but I generally like to keep things succinct on forums.
Andy Robinson says:
January 11, 2016 at 02:17 PM
I applaud this review of the purpose and quality of education. I believe their is a need to bring a greater balance to the education of children and young people. I also believe it is possible to achieve this without sacrificing progress in English, maths & sciences.
It is worth considering four levels of purpose for learning, proposed by Valerie Hannon recently, in seeking that balance. She suggests seeking to gain knowledge and capability on Planetary/Global, National/Local, Interpersonal and Intra-personal issues.
I am also a strong advocate of outdoor learning to provide a medium that engages and provides a wealth of opportunities to both get 'hands-on' and develop reflective capability. Use of the medium of outdoor learning is often sadly lacking from teacher training and too many teachers lack the confidence and competence to draw on it. I suggest the committee consider carefully how the use of outdoor learning, that delivers well at all four levels of Hannon's model, might be increased across school and wider community based education.
Janet Hutchinson says:
January 11, 2016 at 10:23 AM
Education is a life long process provided partly in schools and partly to help Yp prepare for employment however it is so much more than this. I have worked with education in a variety of roles for over 30 years. Literacy and numeracy are important but so is use of up to date ICT skills and it is important to remember that technology can help with literacy and numeracy anyway particularly the former. In my opinion young people's education must be balanced between academic, functional and soft skills learning. Skills such as self awareness and empathy need to be developed as well as skills and knowledge to help individuals understand and manage successful and healthy relationships.
The main purpose of education is to help individuals fulfil their potential and ideally contribute effectively to their society. They need to be taught a range of things like how to learn, problem solving, analytical and creative skills. They need an ability to manage change, an understanding of themselves and the global society they are a part of. Some of this can be taught via traditional subjects but a significant part of it needs to be very clearly addressed through a range of teaching and learning experiences which may not need to be formally assessed. Tolerance of others and listening skills are also essential for education in my opinion. Ideally education should help individuals to learn about themselves and the wider world and to want to continue to learn whilst making both themselves and the world better.
James Glasse says:
January 07, 2016 at 10:04 AM
As a primary school teacher with thirteen years' experience I am very concerned about the levels of stress that young children are now experiencing because of increased bureaucracy. For this reason I started a petition called Save Childhood and Give us Back Our Education at and would like this and the very many comments from concerned petitioners - parents, teachers and other individuals - to be considered by the committee. I fully understand and support the need for numeracy and literacy and the need for high standards but am very uneasy about the relentless pressure to test children at younger and younger ages. One of the best ways to promote 'soft' skills such as leadership and communication in young children is to allow them to engage in unstructured play and am concerned that play time is being eroded. Healthy relationships are crucial and the teaching environment is becoming far too stressful for teachers and pupils and this is having a negative impact on families as well as causing mental health issues among teachers and the children that they teach. It is also having a negative impact on the learning environment as young children only ever learn well in a happy environment. The petitioners at speak far more eloquently than I can on these issues and I ask that their comments on the petition please be taken into account. At the time of writing, 902 people have signed the petition. I have attached the link to the petition and comments below.
Catherine Bee says:
January 05, 2016 at 08:31 PM
The purpose of education is to enable young children and adults to develop a broad range of skills, both academic and soft skills. There is too great a focus on testing of narrow bands of knowledge, such as the proposed times table tests and the poorly thought through Reception (school) baseline, which does little to educate and much to push schools into managing the test to ensure their outcomes do not punish the establishment.
Education should be about nurturing capailities, not measuring all children against a set benchmark. hildren should be developed as communicators who are able to thrive in different situations, both formal and informal.
Education should value the arts and sciences as much as "the basics". A knowledge of adverbial clausesat age 7 may be measurable but being able to appreciate music and drama are just as important. Education should help build social capital and shared cultural understanding to build cohesive communities.
ducation is not all about employabilty - children should be enabled to aspire to many different futures which are not necessarily "being employed". Developing entrepreneurial skills and life skills and capabilties, being flexible and able to find different avenues are just as important skills. Academic success is ot the only success that matters.