The Blog

Cultivating Ambition in Education

The debate about standards in the UK examination system turns heads because the importance of education is more vivid now than it has ever been. If we're not getting it right, that's a big problem - nationally and for individuals.

This week, Pearson announced some long-term commitments and a wide ranging set of recommendations to help raise standards and build confidence in UK examinations following an extensive consultation.

The debate about standards in the UK examination system turns heads because the importance of education is more vivid now than it has ever been. If we're not getting it right, that's a big problem - nationally and for individuals.

In the 21st century, other than demography, education is likely to be the biggest factor in which countries succeed - or fail. And education is not just a driver of economic growth. It is the means by which people realise their true potential and make progress in their lives.

So it is right that we have the highest expectations of all those who have a stake in delivering education. Awarding organisations, who reward learning and give it currency through examinations and qualifications, are particularly deserving of scrutiny.

Pearson began a Leading on Standards consultation at the beginning of 2012 to help us to understand better how others see the challenges in education and examinations, in order that we might strengthen our part in addressing them. Whilst we are ambitious about what we can achieve as a part of the education community, we also don't presume to be able to resolve difficult questions alone.

The most important message we heard through our consultation was that too much focus on traditional exams risks undermining the broader purpose of education. That's a tough message for an organisation with large numbers of people dedicated to assessment design to hear.

Digging deeper, we heard that young people want to be tested in a way that is more appropriate for the world they live in. Employers and higher education want evidence of knowledge and skills which extends and endures beyond time spent in an examination hall. We need to ensure the education system is dynamic and ready to respond to changing skills and needs.

That might mean transforming the ways we teach and the way we test. Yet setting expectations high - both for students and those of us who seek to support their learning - is fundamental to getting standards right. We need to help build a culture of ambition in British education, shifting mind sets from meeting to exceeding expectations, to set the pace for the world in educational standards in the 21st century.

But it's not enough to look ahead to a fresh start. We need to rebuild confidence in the way examinations are run, where awarding bodies can be trusted to uphold and drive these standards.

We don't have all the answers - but we do now have a much better sense of where, as an awarding organisation, our priorities should be to help achieve that goal. Our Report offers new ways to ensure that the standards debate remains at the centre of education thinking in the UK:

  • A five yearly, independent and fundamental Review of Educational Ambition which will ensure the British examination system is fit for purpose for the future;
  • Enhanced and accredited training and recognition for Pearson examiners through a strategic partnership with the Chartered Institute of Educational Assessors and University of Durham;
  • A new generation of A levels which set the bar higher, and encourage deeper learning;
  • Independent validation of skills at age 18 in partnership with employers, higher education and other relevant experts.

Through these actions and others, we want to work with partners across education to help re-instil confidence in the British examination system, and ensure that the knowledge children acquire during their time at school truly endures and serves them throughout their lives. We believe we can help to build a system that fosters a culture which emphasises learning more, rather than simply testing more.