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An open letter on education: Why it should change, but not in the way you believe


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Dear Robert Halfon,

It has been reported you believe the GCSE system should change, in favour for a more holistic approach, which replaces GCSE exams with a baccalaureate covering linguistic, knowledge and creative subjects at the age of 18.

Your justification is accurate, as the government's recent and long-running focus on STEM subjects is stifling and degrading the vitality of creativity and may potentially limit the ability for creative industries to employ domestic talent in the future.

With increasing demands for a more applied academic system, which teaches pupils the necessities surrounding taxation, mortgages and whatever a P45 is, it is clear the GCSE system requires modernisation - but not in the way you believe.

The pressure to achieve at GCSE level is arguably creating a mental health crisis amongst British youth and teachers, exasperated by the structural reforms to the grading system and the increasing difficulty of examinations. It is here your suggested reform will be of most benefit - reducing the pressure and the amount of examinations sat below the age of 18 will contribute towards a more relaxed education system, where students are free to develop their workplace skills (leadership, confidence, problem-solving) without the pressure of examinations.

However, though beneficial to our future’s mental wellbeing, your belief for a greater level of vocational qualifications to bridge the gap between education and employment is met with one large scepticism: the stigma of vocational qualifications. Whether it is because our education system is so grounded in traditional routes, and regardless of industry favourability towards vocational qualifications, they have previously and remain to be met with large criticism across the academic sphere. For many they are considered the easy route, a way of ‘dumbing’ down academia to ensure everyone can achieve, unsuited for those of higher academic capabilities who may feel unchallenged by undertaking a vocational qualification.

To that I express numerous explicit words of dismay, for my own GCSE experience was muddled with a mix of traditional routes and vocational subjects. Admittedly whilst these did fail to academically challenge me in a way which their traditional counterparts did, they did present their own form of challenge. The discipline of revision was replaced by learning the time management skills required to not leave my coursework until the day before hand-in, where their practical approach meant I developed my leadership and confidence abilities far more efficiently than that citizenship exam ever allowed me to.

Image Credit: edsys via Pixabay

However, this is not to dampen the capacity of my traditional subjects for teaching me employability skills. Whilst comparing Macbeth to Lord of the Flies seemed arbitrary at the time, later in life I have come to appreciate the cross-evaluation skills I learned from English Literature. Combined with the independent thinking and debates aroused in History, through traditional examination subjects I developed the necessary skills to pursue a successful university degree, write this very article and begin a career in marketing and communications.

My point is this, whilst the GCSE system is arguably flawed for imposing too much pressure on students, I do not believe the entire system's merit for enhancing employability skills is fatal. Of course, elements like PSHE could use modernisation in line with calls to enhance the real-life application of the knowledge learned at secondary level, but these are minor tweaks to assessment styles and curriculum content, where I believe greater improvement is required elsewhere in education.

Looking back on my long period of life spent in academia, I gained my most employability value from secondary school and university. That blank space in the middle-called college (or further education), was exactly that, a blank space. Of course, this entitled me to gain university acceptance, but the majority of those two years was a replication of secondary school, where I sat A-level exams and experienced little in terms of career preparation. Perhaps we were all expected to take the traditional route to university, pulling on my previous anecdote regarding the perceptions of vocational qualifications and the emphasis of knowledge and traditionalism across academia.

Though I appreciate that your beliefs call for a change to the format of academia, it is something I believe shouldn’t occur as it provides value to future employability skills and diversity for those, like myself, who thrive through traditional routes. If you wish to address the skills gap in today’s society then I call for a greater level of collaboration between workplaces and colleges who provide the traditional A-level route. It would be here through workshops, short-courses or even college level placements where the skills gap can be addressed amongst students who are on the bridge of work and potentially know which sectors they wish to enter, providing true value at a prominent age.

For whilst it is clear change must occur, it is not in my humblest opinion to be where you believe it should take place.

Lead Image Credit: edsys via Pixabay

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