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.
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.
• 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.