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The A-Level Fiasco - One More Symptom of a Broken System

Updated: May 28, 2023

At first glance, the recent A-Level results fiasco seems like just one more example of ministerial incompetence in dealing with the challenges thrown up by the Covid-19 crisis. In fact, the crisis and its mismanagement have just shined a spotlight on the problems that exist in an education system where standardisation - a one size fits all education, with continual standardised testing and little room for teachers to bring their experience and expertise to meet the needs of students as individuals.

Green Party education spokesperson Vix Lowthion, who is also a secondary school teacher on the Isle of Wight, said:

“The education system needs a complete overhaul to bring it into the 21st century.
The results fiasco is a clear example of how the current system is not fit for purpose. The mere idea of adjusting results by algorithm in order to fit in with league tables shows just how warped the system has become and how little it prioritises the most important aspect, the students.
As teachers we are nurturing the leaders of tomorrow and so we must stop limiting their potential through high stakes testing which creates unnecessary pressure and instead promote a system of continuous assessment to enhance the learning of each individual child.”

The Green Party has issued a five point plan to overhaul the education system and encourage learning for life:

  • Trust teachers and take into account regular centre assessed grades at fixed points throughout the course for GCSE and A level

  • Reinstate opportunities for coursework and modular assessment, which was removed by Michael Gove’s reforms

  • Scrap league tables of exam results, and instead focus on reporting to parents on a mix of academic, practical and cultural achievements and opportunities for students in our schools

  • Evaluate the purpose of education, which is not merely to pass exams, but to equip young people with practical and academic skills for the 21st century. Students do not need a curriculum for the office workers of the past, but to become problem solvers of the future

  • Support educational opportunities outside of schools including home learning, adult learning and distance learning

As the fiasco unfolded, I was reading From What Is to What If by Rob Hopkins (co founder of the Transition movement), specifically the chapter What if Schools Nutured Young Imaginations". And I was really horrified by this further evidence of what Rob Hopkins talks about, the use of so-called "education" to crush the imagination and produce standardised people. As one teacher that he interviewed said to him:

"Stuff kids full of facts, test them at the end. Set targets, measure schools on their ability to meet the targets. Measure teachers on their ability to meet the targets. Force pupils down a narrow academic route. Downplay the role of critical thinking and equiry-based learning in favour of traditional memorising of facts. Imagination is stifled, job satisfaction plummets. Teachers suffer as do the pupils. The current curriculum direction is moving to squeeze out imagination, to devalue its expression and to marginalise enquiry in favour of conformity."

Of course, there are young people who manage to emerge with their imaginations intact - due to their own resilience or to inspirational teachers. But it's despite, not because of, the education system.

We desperately need a change that will nuture creative and imaginative thinking. We're facing ecological crises that mean that we can't go on with business as usual just tweaking at the edges. So, it's vital that education moves away from promoting conformity and starts nuturing the imagination, creativity and daring that we're going to need to build a sustainable, healthy, and just society.

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