'Purpose and quality of Education in England' web forum

As part of our inquiry into the purpose and quality of education in England, the Education Committee would like to hear your views on what the education system is for.

Points to consider

Before submitting to the forum please consider the following points:

  • How much of  a focus should there be on preparing young people for employment through focusing on skills such as numeracy and literacy?
  • What role should the education system play in developing 'soft' skills, such as leadership and communication?
  • How much should education prepare people for adult life in terms of areas such as healthy relationships and personal finance?

Send us your comments on the following question:

  • What should the main purpose of education be? What should young people be taught to fulfil that purpose?

The deadline for comments is midday, Monday 25 January 2016.

Comments will be used to inform the Committee’s thinking on this issue. This forum is pre-moderated and comments that breach the online discussion rules will not be posted.

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123 Responses to Send a comment to Purpose and quality of education forum

Michael Newman Summerhill School says:
December 02, 2015 at 12:31 PM
Education has had a history of heroism, innovation and open, shared practice based on 'liberating the child'. This has been fighting the ideas of education being defined by exams, outcomes in terms of skills, knowledge and attitudes, and training people in behaviour and values. These ideas are known as traditional, but should be recognised as archaic and regressive. We are a social, moral, learning animal. Education is about how we, as individuals, learn to model the world around us, including our image of ourselves and our communities. It is how we develop into active members of a culture of creativity based on human rights - which is the foundation of justice, equality and freedom. Once this is accepted as a starting point, as it was in 1914 at the birth of the New Ideals in Education teacher conferences, then we can start answering questions about methods, testing, how our schools and universities are run... We must no longer accept the idea that our universities are the pinnacle of learning and academic achievement - they are the power that maintains an unthinking workship of the academic at the expense of the children, the teachers, and ultimately a society based on democracy and human rights.
Peter Mattock says:
December 02, 2015 at 10:29 AM
The purpose of education has always been ensuring that our shared knowledge and understanding of human achievement to date has been passed on to the next generation, and to convey upon the next generation their responsibility to build upon it. This is apparent particularly in Maths where we still teach construction techniques and others that are of little or no practical relevance in today's society. Any changes in this focus would require significant curriculum changes in certain subjects.
Eleanor Reardon says:
December 01, 2015 at 11:39 PM
Education should maximise the child's educational and emotional opportunities to grow to be able to take their place in the community of which they are a part, without foreclosing their options to live outside of that community should they so choose. (case law states that to be a suitable education: R V Secretary of State for Education and Science (ex parte) Talmud Torah Machzikei Hadass School Trust, Times, April 1985.)
The current rigidity within school curricula churns out identically taught children who have learned or often not learned, identical things from a narrow range of identical topics. In the 1950s and 1960s British education was something to be proud of, currently we are close to the bottom of international league tables. You cannot fix that by tweaking a dying delivery system, you need to go back to basics. Children need to feel valued, be treated as individuals and to be able to follow their own interests, not be channelled into a restrictive band of catering to the lowest common denominator.
Look at home educated children for an example. They achieve higher academic outcomes on average than do school children, mainly based on the individualised delivery that parents provide in a supportive and caring atmosphere.
Currently, the school system is punitive toward any child who does not fit the narrow parameters of expectation. Children do not thrive as herd animals, nor do they thrive in situations where almost 70% of them report bullying in some form.
The system is broken. It needs mending.
Ray Moore says:
December 01, 2015 at 09:32 PM
The purpose of education is to help children to learn to think, and think for themselves...... to give them the tools they need to take control of their own lives, and maximum choice over the direction their lives take in the future. To help them to develop integrity, empathy, and character.

Soft skills are an essential ingredient in the mix. Employers say that they value these highly, as well as as the academic skills which the current education system seems to value disproportionately.

Life skills are also highly important and currently neglected by the system;
Alan Roland says:
December 01, 2015 at 02:32 PM
The main purpose of education is to become an educated person, therefore for each person education is an individual experience.

Children should be guided to the many and varied ways in which there are to acquire knowledge and experience, so that they can become autonomous learners as soon as practically possible and end the reliance on teaching as the primary means of acquiring an education.

We have stifled learning by insisting on a rigid curriculum imposed on every child via mass instruction. Not only is this inefficient, it is also contrary to the spirit and intent of Section 7 of the Education Act 1996 which requires each individual child to be suitably educated according to their age, ability and aptitude and any special education needs they may have.

If you are genuine in your desire to overhaul education – start with Section 7 and build an education system that offers genuine choice, low pupil to ‘facilitator' ratios (say 5:1 or at most 10:1) and allow children the freedom to learn unfettered by artificial constraints like the national curriculum and segregation by age, and end the mindless approach that requires teaching to the tests.

Yes – it will cost more than at present, but our nation’s children deserve far better than the current offering.
Simon Green says:
December 01, 2015 at 10:31 AM
This is a welcome set of questions, but hugely complex to answer... although many of the answers might be found in the body of work published by CPRT.
At the front line I see a system promoted by DfE/ Secretary of State that is obsessed by standards in testing of maths, reading and writing at age eleven; this obsession is to the detriment of developing learning dispositions in many schools and to the reduction of the curriculum in many schools... ultimately to the detriment of developing rounded and well educated adults.
Although not a secondary teacher I also see that this narrowing is in the ebac and again to the detriment to many learners.
Too often I hear ministers say that it's all about core subjects... when teachers, CPRT, CBI et al disagree with the national policy then it is time for a rethink.
Education should be about achieving personal aspirations and goals, and developing the broad range of knowledge and skills to do this.
Jane T says:
December 01, 2015 at 09:47 AM
I have a son in year 1. In my experience, there is too much pressure on young children and teachers to get the children to a certain level of reading, writing and maths by a very young age. I don't remember the same demands when I was at achool and yet everyone achieved a good standard by the end of junior school. For the children up to year 2 (age 7), I think the emphasis on play-based education should be retained, and the pressure taken off. I don't think children of this age need to understand punctuation, grammar/sentence construction, equations, etc.
I agree that leadership, communication, relationships, finance, etc, should be taought in school, and some of this can start at a very young age. These skills are as vital for employment as nummeracy and literacy.
Joanne Foley says:
December 01, 2015 at 09:04 AM
Purpose of education - to enable young people to ask questions about the answers they are given - not simply trust what they are told; to provide them with opportunities to experience different cultures, environments, challenges...; to engender young people with a passion for learning and always working to improve themselves and the systems that they work within. I am less concerned with what they learn than how they learn it and the skills that they have developed while doing so.
Peter Lydon says:
December 01, 2015 at 08:23 AM
Iftikhar Ahmad says:
November 30, 2015 at 10:04 PM
You better educate your children with your own teachers and let Muslim community educate their children with Muslim teachers. The problem solved.

Why are Muslim schools oversubscribed? Why is there a demand for them from so many Muslim parents? People who are against Muslim schools have to first of all answer these questions especially within the context of a choice-dominated public sector agenda. The anti-Muslim argument is that Muslim schools are a form of protectionism that harm community cohesion. This led to the rather absurd suggestion after the riots of 2001 that Muslim schools were the cause of the problem (most of the rioters were from local comprehensives). Well, protectionism is as much a part of Muslim schools as it is a part of Christian or Jewish schools. The Muslim case is that Muslim schools are necessary because Muslim children feel confidant within them and they grow up therefore as confident citizens ready to participate in society.

But back to the question of Muslim schools themselves. Those who advocate against Muslim schools still have to deal with the fear that Muslim parents have against some non-Muslim teachers. This is not unfounded. I have been shouted at, told to leave my parents (twice) and insulted whilst receiving my education. During the Rushdie affair, I was told that one non-Muslim from an educational establishment was overheard in a conversation saying: ‘Why can’t we just take these kids away from their parents?’ Quite. Anti-Muslim prejudice amongst teachers is well-known. This is why the recent suggestion by the National Union of Teachers to incorporate Muslim instruction into normal schooling hours is such a positive suggestion. If Muslims could get onto the school governing boards and acquire senior positions in school management (such that ownership is shared) then incorporating instruction (i.e. something resembling the madrassa) into normal schooling hours sounds like a fantastic idea. The madrassa model may need to be changed in order to do this, but it may help Muslim achievement in two ways. Firstly, Muslim identity becomes part of the norm (not separated off) and secondly the children will have more time to be children i.e. to play. Muslim schools at the most cater for a few hundred children but Muslim demographics mean that we need to provide educational solutions for the thousands. This suggestion by the NUT seems to offer a far more practical solution.

Muslim schools, in spite of meagre resources, have excelled to a further extent this year, with two schools achieving 100% A-C grades for five or more GCSEs. They beat well resourced state and independent schools in Birmingham and Hackney. Muslim schools are doing better because a majority of the teachers are Muslim. The pupils are not exposed to the pressures of racism, multiculturalism and bullying.

A Muslim is a citizen of this tiny global village. He/she does not want to become notoriously monolingual Brit. The whole world belongs to Muslims. He/she must learn and be well versed in Standard English to follow the National Curriculum and go for higher studies and research to serve humanity. At the same time, he/she must learn and be well versed in Arabic, Urdu and other community languages to keep in touch with their cultural heritage and enjoy the beauty of their literature and poetry. For a Muslim English is an economic language and Arabic is a religious while Urdu and other community languages are social and emotional.

Bilingual Muslims children have a right, as much as any other faith group, to be taught their culture, languages and faith alongside a mainstream curriculum. More faith schools will be opened under sweeping reforms of the education system in England. There is a dire need for the growth of state funded Muslim schools to meet the growing needs and demands of the Muslim parents and children. Now the time has come that parents and community should take over the running of their local schools. Parent-run schools will give the diversity, the choice and the competition that the wealthy have in the private sector.

There are hundreds of state primary and secondary schools where Muslim pupils are in majority. In my opinion all such schools may be opted out to become Muslim Academies. This mean the Muslim children will get a decent education. Muslim schools turned out balanced citizens, more tolerant of others and less likely to succumb to criminality or extremism. Muslim schools give young people confidence in who they are and an understanding of Islam’s teaching of tolerance and respect which prepares them for a positive and fulfilling role in society.