Should our schools be exam factories or something more?

In an interview with Rosemary Bennett, Education editor of the Times, the Secretary of State for Education Damian Hinds once again stated that there is a need for all schools to shift the focus from exam results to character and resilience, which thus far have been taught only within independent schools.

Mr Hinds says there are five foundations on which he wants all schools to now focus: The five foundations are sport, including “purposeful recreational activities”, such as rock climbing or yoga; creativity; performing; volunteering or membership of an organisation such as the Scouts, and work experience.

All the above have, of course, been part of the International Baccalaureate curriculum since its inception, and probably the reason why increasingly students prefer to take the IB rather than A-levels. Having said that, even in the IB curriculum the focus is very much on what one does rather than reflecting on why it is better for students in the long run to acquire these skills.

It seems that British education is still not ready to take the leap, as reflected in the reaction to the above by Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of Schools and College Leaders, who commented: “It’s good that the secretary of state is recognising the important part played by extra-curricular activities, which have a proud tradition across schools and colleges of all types. Such activities don’t lend themselves to school performance tables, but they should be an essential part of every child’s experience,” once again putting his focus on school performance tables and completely missing the point.

The point being, in my opinion, that it is these skills that will enable future generations to find and retain work, be happier adults and live in a society where mental health is no longer one of the main social issues. Whilst some argue that it will be difficult to measure how these skills benefit students, the benefits will nonetheless be very obvious. A fall in mental health and obesity statistics perhaps?

There are ways that parents can fight this mentality by finding other ways to provide children with these fundamental skills whether through sports and drama or through other outdoor activities that nurture creativity, collaboration, resilience and leadership in children, especially before they reach secondary school. These skills will be particularly important in their early teens, to prepare them for the challenges of the world they will inherit, despite the education that their schools provide.

Luckily for children, many of the schools and academies are trying to retain as many of these extra-curricular activities so not all is lost. As parents, we recommend that you not follow the limited school teachings and boost your children’s development in as many creative ways as you can. The world of work and the world is changing and if the education system can’t keep up, you at least can.

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