Education has always been a hotly debated topic in Parliament, even more so when many young people in the UK returned back to school after their summer recess. For very many, the week marked the start of another step in their educational journey, starting high school, college, sixth form or even university.
For me, it was becoming a sixth former. The week beginning 5th September was my first week at King Charles I Sixth Form. Although I was used to the place, having studied there since Year 7, this time something was different- I was no longer there by law, but there out of personal choice. My attendance was optional. It was predicted that 250,000 people across the UK were in the same position as me, and in two years will be able to vote in elections, or even be able to stand as a candidate in elections.
Starting a new academic year is like opening a new book; the first page is clean, you always underline the date and title, you always use a pen for writing, and pencil for drawing, then a few weeks into it the standards start to slip. But not this year. With the government’s new education reforms there’s no place for complacency, and that goes for students too.
One of the main issues is the debate surrounding GCSEs, and their relevance in Britain’s increasingly competitive education system, steered by Conservative ‘robust’ reforms. But perhaps we are not competitive enough. One of the headlines to grip the news in the autumn has been the story of how a teenager living in Pakistan managed to scoop up a staggering 46 A-grade qualifications in his exams. In Britain it is still very rare to see a young person achieving 12 As at GCSE level, and although we shouldn’t be expecting students to achieve as many as 46 top grades, this case study underlines the growing concern that our education system is falling behind in a seemingly global race.
There is also a growing conscientious outlook from schools, and other educational institutions, about their ‘every child matters’ policy. It seems that schools nowadays are driven by statutory responsibilities rather than having the autonomy to develop a fully comprehensive curriculum that not only helps children to progress in terms of academic development, but perhaps more importantly in vocational experience.
The sociological theorist, Emile Durkheim, claimed that “schools are miniature societies based after the social system.” Simply put, schools are the institutions that prepare young people with the skills, values and virtues that they need in later life. If so, then isn’t it equally important that they are competitive, challenging and act as a real source of academic and vocational growth, encouraging young people to grow into responsible citizens as well as effective economic contributors?
Just after a few weeks into the academic year, thousands of teachers went on strike in protest against the government over pensions, pay and workload. As a result of this, many head teachers across the UK were forced to shut their schools for the day, and the education of swathes of young people was disturbed. This causes a dilemma; a conflict of interests. If we want our young people to become responsible citizens, then we need to think about what message we are sending out to them. We need to encourage our young people to take an active role in the democratic processes that have been built in our society; we need to ensure that there are opportunities in place to ensure that their voices are being heard, and consciously acted upon. This includes surveying the views of young people on future strike action- strike action which may impinge upon their academic studies.
There are many uncertainties that face our education system in the future. Each new year academic year brings new challenges for both pupils and teachers alike. With the right sort of changes though, our education system can become globally revered once more; helping our youngest and brightest to reach their full potential both academically and economically.
And for my part, over the last eight months as a Member of Worcestershire Youth Cabinet for Wyre Forest, I have had the enormous honour of working with my local MPs, councillors, business and community leaders, and citizens- in particular young people- to deliver a positive impact on the community. Through this continued hard work, from myself and other young people, I hope that we can soon see the benefits of an education system ready for the challenges of our changing world.
- Craig (originally written for Backbench)