Leading the Field, or Keeping Up with the Joneses (or their Chinese equivalent)?

Is the grass really always greener overseas educationally? I sometimes marvel at how, in the space of a couple of generations, we have gone from being chauvinistically “British is Best” to being totally convinced that the whole world is doing something right and we are doing it wrong. The latest example of this is the hoo-hah about our standing in the PISA education rankings, following which was the announcement of “Tougher GCSEs pegged to China Scores” in the Guardian last week. Leaving aside for now the idea of using yet another set of measures when they proliferate in our education system already, the relatively dubious track record of importing the American system of assessment and even the number of studies discrediting them as not easily comparable, I would like to examine how value management could be introduced in formulating a more humane, yet more ambitious, system.

Consider the right question to ask

Value management says you should consider the functionality you need before developing solutions. Currently, education is seen as the cure for everything that’s wrong in this country. Whatever your views on that, it shouldn’t mean that everything has to happen before children leave school: that would deny them the right to be children whilst they still are. Whilst performance in China for maths is undeniably high for those children with access to good schools (by no means evenly available there), the record in Asia for suicide among schoolchildren is also high. Do we want to import that too?

Involve all stakeholders in developing solutions

The rising incidence of self-harming and mental illness in schools here, now running at about 10% of each class versus 30% in China, makes it evident that the concerns of parents, teachers and children alike about the stresses placed on education should be heeded.   Obviously we need also to include employers as they must clearly express what they believe they will need. The impact on the next generation is huge – not just in terms of their marketability, but in their mental resilience. That same mental resilience combined with entrepreneurship is what will create more opportunities for our young people than mere exam passes alone will in any case.

This argues the need for a means to train and measure mental resilience. If measures of teacher effectiveness are deemed essential, then some of those measures at least ought to be directed here. Some further thoughts on this can be found here.

Establish the functions of such a performance model

Using the term “performance model” rather than “examination structure” opens up the range of solutions. Whilst neither keen on anything that increases the number of tests nor a great fan of controlled assessment, there is no doubt that the “sudden death” exam structure is not conducive to all children in all subjects. Some subjects are inevitably better-suited to course work, eg Art or perhaps Design Technology. In neither field is it likely that you would have such a limited time to produce your output in real life, so it makes sense to find a more suitable assessment method.

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