Last week saw the publication of the annual Ofsted report which looked at the outcomes of schools' inspections in 2013-14. The report's headline-grabber was that progress in secondary schools in the UK 'has stalled', with 29% of state secondary schools now rated as less than good.
In the report, the Chief Inspector of Schools, Sir Michael Wilshaw, said that there are now 170,000 pupils in inadequate secondary schools, about 70,000 more than two years ago. Sir Michael puts these problems down to a combination of, amongst other things, failing to build on prior learning, poor and inconsistent leadership, ineffective middle management, too much low-level disruption and poor careers advice. To raise standards, according to the report, schools "need to concentrate on the basics."
At Young Enterprise, we have a lot of respect for Sir Michael and his team. They do an excellent job. But Ofsted can only measure what the government tells them to measure and because of this, we believe that Ofsted is sadly still a long way off being able to judge the true effectiveness of our schools and their long-term impact on the lives of our children.
In my view, the assessment criteria laid out for Ofsted by the government are too blunt and much too narrow. They place much too much emphasis on the number of young people achieving certain grades, usually the number of students who achieve five A*-C grades at GCSE level, and no emphasis on job and life skills.
Sir Michael admits that he has concentrated on English and Mathematics teaching recently and this reflects the current political direction. It is no bad thing. It is of course vital that we can objectively evaluate our young people's knowledge - that's why examinations are so important. And, yes, maths and English are crucial to any fully rounded education. But, as I've said before, we must not forget that knowing Pythagoras' Theorem is not the be all and end all. There's a lot more to education to than that, and in today's world work and life skills are becoming more important by the day.
All of our young people deserve a good quality education - schooling that prepares them for their working life, helps them to find a job or gives them the skills to start up their own business and contribute to the economy. A top-quality education should not only teach students key facts and figures, but also help them put them to practical use. In fact, the most important skills our children learn at school should be the practical application of the skills needed to succeed in the real world.
The issue we've got as a country at the moment is a lack of work-ready young people. In research carried out by Young Enterprise and Opinium, employers said that 70% of young people weren't prepared for employment. This figure is not going to drop if we continue to just measure the A*-C grade result for subjects such as maths and English. We all know that the number of students who achieve five A*-C grades says nothing about the number of children who can manage their money effectively or get a job. Important though they are, by measuring these results alone we're creating unintended consequences; we're saying to schools, forget life skills or getting ready for employment, just make sure your pupils hit the grades. And this approach is clearly failing at the moment as nearly 1 in 5 young people are facing the daunting prospect of unemployment.
So what should be factored into an Ofsted report? Our research has found that an effective education system needs to teach '5 key skills' - communication, teamwork, creativity, resilience and problem-solving - as well as the crucially important skills around financial education. It's always going to be difficult to assess the true effectiveness of our education system if we don't have good data about how our schools are performing on this front. If we taught these skills and could measure the outcomes, our children's prospects would be greatly improved. As one of our financial education students recently said: "It's stuff you need to know but you don't know you need to know it."
As I have said in a previous blog post, I believe that the first step towards teaching these five key skills is to bring together a board of education leaders - and business people - to form a long-term strategy for the future of education. Only then will we give ourselves the time and space to ask the really big, important questions, such as what is education for and how can we judge whether it's working? If we could come together to devise a long-term strategy, start teaching and measuring the things that really count in the lives of our children, then we could create an education system that's truly fit for the future.