A Grades For All… What Would Happen?

The Department for Education has a dream… a vision of a “highly educated society in which opportunity is more equal for children and young people no matter what their background or family circumstances.”

Sounds great eh?  What about a happy society? Or a successful society? Or a society in which the population strive to reach their full potential?  I teach young adults 16+ with a broad range of complex learning difficulties and disabilities… are they highly educated enough to be part of this dream society? Just wondering…

Our current education system is built on numbers, league tables and statistics.  If you work within the ‘system’ you are constantly striving to improve on the current teaching, learning and achieving standards.  When will we be happy with what we have got? Will we ever be doing it right? How will we know?

In an ideal world, our education system would be so incredibly fantastic that we would overcome all barriers to learning in an exciting and engaging environment where everyone achieved.  Let’s imagine an ideal scenario whereby all of our Year11 students achieved 10 GCSE’s at Grade A.  What an incredible nation we’d have right?!

Or maybe…

  • Our education system would be branded ‘too easy’ and something harder and more rigorous would need to be implemented immediately.
  • In addition to being identical on paper, the young people would be spectacularly and mundanely mediocre at a broad range of subject areas? Who would make the best Doctors? Teachers? Candlestick Makers? How could you tell? How could they tell? How could they decide what career path they wanted to follow? (To be honest they’re a bunch of dingbats if they don’t know by now though right?  We have been asking them since they were six years old for heaven’s sakes!)

What would happen if suddenly it was o.k. for young people not to be good at everything?

I’m not good at everything.  I am terrible at Maths; no two ways about it.  Personally I think that people’s minds are wired differently. I’ve got a wordy mind; whereas my husband has more numbery mind for example.  Perhaps you are sciencey or musical or arty or sporty or maybe you are Mary Berryey… the joy of being human is being different surely?

I got a B in my maths GCSE, not bad eh? Gee whizz; it took a whole lot of hard work to get that B mind. My brain is not naturally made to deal with numbers; it stumbles and fumbles around, and even the simplest of calculations makes me sweatily anxious.  Surprisingly, as a result; I have not pursued a career in accounting or finance.

Throughout my educational life, much work went into getting that B.  Teachers strived to help me improve, hours of additional time and worry went into it too.  On paper however, I look identical to the person who didn’t work hard. The person who just rocked up to the exam and busted out a B; hungover from last night’s coolness– because that’s just how they roll; because they are naturally better at Maths than I am.  This got me thinking…

What if… instead of ploughing hours of time and energy into a subject I wasn’t naturally good at/had any interest in and have subsequently avoided in adult life- the same amount of time was put in to extending my literacy skills; a subject area I love and am  naturally better at?  Maybe writing could have taken me further than a blog.

Exams and tests are funny things too; the maximum you can get is 100% but what if you know more than that? “Sorry love, you don’t need to know any more… you’ve got an A* that’s the best you can get.” Surely it would be advantageous for us to have doctors who are ridiculously good at medicine, scientists who are horrifically good at science, and mathematicians who are phenomenal at maths….

Let’s just say you were incredibly amazing at maths… like ridiculously awesome… you couldn’t get a place to read mathematics at Oxford or Cambridge unless you were also grade A in at least 2 other areas.  Why is that? Why do we have to be good at lots of things?!

What if… instead of looking at a child in terms of where they need extra help to improve and achieve, we consider them in terms of their natural abilities and offer them opportunities to flourish and shine using them as a guide?

The students I teach are amongst some of the most incredible young people you could ever wish to meet.  I am privileged to meet them at the transitional point between education and real –life.  The ways in which the school system they have passed through has both benefitted and failed them is starkly evident.  My colleagues and I have an opportunity to make a huge difference to the next steps these young people take in terms of their independence and economic wellbeing.  We cannot look at our students in terms of what they can’t do; in order for them to succeed in their learning and us in our jobs; we must look at what they can do and run with it.  We take their strengths, we take their interests … a bit of spark, passion and belief…They achieve.  Simples.  I do work in ‘special’ education though I hear you say … to be honest I’d like to think that all education was just a little bit special.

I’ve written previously about our ever changing world and the fact that the jobs my children will do are likely to not exist yet.  With this in mind, how can we teach subject knowledge which will be of much use to them?  This got me thinking back to my own qualifications again… I got a B in Geography.  I am almost certain that I achieved that B because fifteen minutes prior to my exam I stumbled across a few pages about ‘drumlins’ in my revision guide.  I thought they had a funky name so had a little read… went in to my exam… the last question… all about? …You’ve guessed it… drumlins.  To this day, apart from this very moment I have never ever written or used the word ‘drumlin’… yet on every application form I fill out for the rest of my life… the B in Geography I brag about… is owed in it’s entirety to a bit of luck and a drumlin. (For the record a drumlin is an oval-shaped hill, largely composed of glacial drift; formed beneath a glacier…)

People need functional literacy and numeracy skills, there is no denying that. But beyond that is there a massive reason we all need to learn and study from the same curriculum?

In Primary schools we are returning to a more thematic approach to teaching and learning. Can we extend this further? What if we didn’t teach any explicit subjects? What if we taught skills? What if teachers could be creative and undertake real life exciting projects, led by their students’ interests and embed core skills within it?  We might not be able to teach the exact subject knowledge my children will need in the future, but I’m pretty sure we can promote the development of skills that they can apply to any challenge life throws their way.

I received some training a couple of years ago from ‘Rotherham Ready’ an enterprise project with a vision to equip “ young people with the enterprise skills they would  need to make a success of their future and help create a thriving economy.” (Between you and me I prefer this vision to that of the Department for Education’s… but shhh!) They deliver training and initiatives alongside ideas on how to embed enterprise skills across the whole curriculum from Early Years to Post 16. Frankly, I loved it.  They promote 13 key skills from ‘negotiating and influencing’ to ‘creativity and innovation’ and ‘financial literacy’.  Everyone has some level of each of these skills. What individuals can achieve in terms of their own skill development is limitless.

I can hear you thinking… “This one’s a bit much” …”Where’s the usual talk of baby pooh and boobies?” and I’m sorry…

I am a teacher, but more importantly I am a Mummy.  I find the thought of my children starting school utterly soul destroying.  The only aspiration I have for my children is for them to lead a life where they are happy and independent in whatever vocation they choose/find themselves in.  I do not care for the numbers and letters that will be associated with their names as they progress through the school system,  I care about them becoming  healthy, decent and respectful people, who are not afraid to work hard and who will take pride in their achievements.

I feel saddened that the assessment based school system my children will be entering- as they must do by law, is one which I have little to no faith in.  I wish it was o.k. for my children to be children, to have fun, with little to no stress. To learn in a natural, meaningful and progressive way-at a rate that suits them. I want their natural talents to shape the people they become and the decisions they make in life. .. not the ‘one size fits all’ school system they will be ushered through.

In some ways, I wish there was an opt out button…I could take my family and run away to a desert island and I could raise my children in the way I choose. We would of course end up with matching haircuts; terrifically tremendous fringes and become what I call ‘socially interesting’ …but at least we’d be happy.

Feel a bit Mr. Shneebly like today… stickin’ it to the man.

“The babes will have to go to school one day… so now I’m really ticked off!!!” “STEP OFF!!!”

The point is, we can’t all be brain surgeons… what a crap planet this would be if we all could.

Bit much for a Monday morning I know… I’m sorry.

Back to baby pooh and boobies soon.

Big love as ever.


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