An ambitious overhaul of education is needed | Letters

The Conservative One Nation group’s report on schooling doesn’t go far enough, according to Greg Brooks and Steven Burkeman, while Ruth Eversley ponders a career recommendation

There is much to be welcomed in the One Nation Conservative MPs’ report (Tory MPs back ditching GCSE exams in English school system overhaul, 8 October), especially the proposal to postpone formal school entry to age six.

But if, as the group wishes, more children are to be “school-ready” by that age, a more ambitious and radical overhaul of the education system in England will be needed. In particular, we would do well to learn from the many other countries where kindergarten for three- to six-year-olds is recognised as a discrete developmental stage, with professionals working in it who have specialist training and a clear career structure. Best practice in those countries concentrates on developing young children’s spoken language, socialisation and fine motor skills – all crucial for educational success and difficult to achieve sitting at desks.

A rational structure for the rest of schooling would be a primary phase for ages six to 12, and a secondary phase for ages 12 to 18, with no centralised assessment until age 18. This would also imply a common curriculum for all children until they begin to know what sort of educational and work career would suit them. Subject choices would, therefore, as the report suggests, begin at about age 15 – we currently make children specialise too early.
Greg Brooks
Emeritus professor of education, University of Sheffield

• The radical rethink of education called for by the One Nation group doesn’t go nearly far enough. Tinkering with exams and term times is all very well but it won’t tackle the fundamental challenge – how to use schools to produce educated and resilient young people who know what gifts they have, and are able to use them to best effect, whether in pursuit of joy, or in order to survive and prosper.

Schooling should help to produce people who are socialised, and have a sense of their place in, and responsibilities to, the universe – at all levels (self, family, community, country etc). In order to achieve this, from the beginning, children’s education should provide the basic tools that ensure the ability to acquire skills and knowledge as and when they are needed or wanted. The specific stuff should wait until it’s wanted and/or relevant. Using these criteria, a large percentage of time in schools is misspent and may be counterproductive. This represents a huge waste of expensive public resources.

Based on these starting points, we would of course ensure that children learn how to read and handle numbers, but we would also spend time helping them to learn how to grow and cook food; how to appreciate and maybe even play music; how to live with one another; about the principles of science; and about the power of language in its various forms to move, persuade, and inform. Music and other arts, and team sport, would be centre stage, not peripheral. The Covid-19 crisis is indeed an opportunity for change – but much greater change than the One Nation group dares to envision.
Steven Burkeman

• Boris Johnson and Dominic Cummings may need to tweak their algorithms again if they are to tackle Michael Gove’s “blob” (The Tories’ culture war is a reminder that the right isn’t as fearless as it seems, 9 October; The Guardian view on next year’s exams: low marks for ministers, 9 October). According to the government’s own skills assessment website, the recommended options for me are teaching/education or emergency and uniform services. Fortunately for them, this “ideologically suspect teacher” retired 10 years ago.
Ruth Eversley
Paulton, Somerset


The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Damage and disillusion caused by A-level downgrades | Letters
Letters: Retired headteacher Mary Smith says Boris Johnson cannot possibly think the marking system has been robust and fair, Chris Pratt calls for common sense, and Syeda Nooresahar Ahmad wonders why she was downgraded in all three A-level subjects. Plus letters from an anonymous former headteacher and Howard Falshaw


14, Aug, 2020 @2:54 PM

Article image
The 2020 exams fiasco has more to teach us yet | Letters
Letters: Salley Vickers on why the need for speed in exams is the problem, Prof Colin Richards on why private pupils still have an advantage after the government’s U-turn, and an anonymous teacher on how grades were really assessed


21, Aug, 2020 @4:13 PM

Article image
Imaginative lessons and teacher-awarded exam grades | Letters
Letters: Rob Watling thinks an education secretary with imagination could transform this summer for children, while Philip C Stenning calls for moderation. Plus letters from Dr Cary Bazalgette and Sarah James


26, Feb, 2021 @5:13 PM

Article image
The Guardian view on educational inequality: no quick fixes | Editorial
Editorial: The disadvantaged pupils who lost out most during the pandemic will need targeted support to catch up


06, Sep, 2020 @5:30 PM

Article image
The Guardian view on next year's exams: low marks for ministers | Editorial
Editorial: By failing to set out clear plans for next summer, the government gives the impression that politics, not pupils, come first


09, Oct, 2020 @5:30 PM

Article image
The malign effects of coalition education policy in England’s schools | Letters: Frank Field MP, Cathy Wood, Michael Pyke, Fiona Carnie, Rev Canon David Jennings and others
Letters: It may be that all the chaos and confusion have simply provided an effective smokescreen for the primary purpose of the piecemeal privatisation of state education in our country

03, Feb, 2015 @7:51 PM

Article image
Our ideologically driven curriculum fails the test | Letters
Letters: The recent editorial about the new GCSEs raises readers’ fears about an increasingly restrictive programme in schools


17, Feb, 2020 @6:03 PM

Article image
Climate change is central to geography lessons | Letter
Letter: The claim that climate change is a ‘peripheral subtopic’ in geography is simply not supported, says Steve Brace


24, Feb, 2019 @6:07 PM

Article image
Forget Sats – find a true measure of education | Letters
Letters: Clive Stafford Smith says Sats are irrelevant to his son’s life and Mary Bousted defends Labour’s proposed assessment reforms, while Ann Moore and Richard Wetherell highlight the negative effects of tests


15, May, 2019 @4:54 PM

Article image
Exams: bad ideology and bad technology | Letters
Letters: The chaos over this year’s A-level results began with a shake-up ordered by Michael Gove, says Peter Clarkson, while Paul Glendinning blames the reliance on algorithmic moderation. Plus letters from Chris Collins, Benny Ross and Terry Stone


12, Aug, 2020 @4:53 PM