The demolition job is comprehensive. I sighed as Cridland began his speech stating that the education system was not fit for purpose, yet more teacher bashing, I feared.
And then I sat up – because what comes next is truly revolutionary. In the course of his speech Cridland called for the ‘retirement’ of GCSEs, calling them ‘past their sell-by-date’. What the CBI wants is a new 14 – 18 curriculum, with personalised pathways for all students, able to access an academic or vocational route, or a mix, provided by schools and colleges working collaboratively. Why, Cridland asks, should there be a ‘picket fence’ between different education providers?
But it is when John Cridland turns his sights on current government education policy that the sparks fly even further. He asks the fundamental question of why, in England (and unlike Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland) has there been no debate on the curriculum – only a debate about exams.
Cridland argues that: ‘we should stop using exams as a tool to influence education rather than accredit it.’ And he makes a bold demand: ‘the government must make a start on a full review of 14 to 18 education by the end of the summer.’
Note, this is not an ask, it is a direction to government to initiate major, fundamental change of the 14 – 18 curriculum.
And he does not stop there. Teachers, Cridland argues, should be able to deliver ‘innovative teaching harnessing new approaches and technologies’. But too many schools across the UK are what Cridland terms ‘impoverished’ – by which he means ‘schools which focus only on academic rigour’.
This is a telling indictment of our education system: that it fails to enthuse and inspire so many pupils for whom a narrow, academic curriculum is inappropriate and unfulfilling. As Cridland notes, with some asperity: ‘We need to help young people develop the attitudes and aptitudes they’ll hold onto long after the technical details of Hannah and her bag of sweets have been forgotten’.
So what are the attitudes and aptitudes that the CBI want students to develop as they are educated? Excellent standards of literacy and numeracy, yes, of course. But so much more than that.
Employers are crying out for school leavers with excellent oracy skills, who are able to use ICT for a range of purposes; who are able to work in teams; who are able to innovate, create and review what they have created.
Employers need school leavers who are resilient, unafraid to take on new challenges and are adaptable. None of these essential ‘soft skills’ cultivated through a narrow academic curriculum assessed through timed linear exams.
Cridland isn’t finished there, however. He laments the lack of good quality careers advice and guidance for young people – and, in a memorable turn of phrase notes: ‘That’s advice – not a website. Young people can access all the information they need on their smart phones. It’s a steer they need.’ And work experience needs to be ‘back on the agenda for all young people before they reach 16 – delivered as part of a new, broader, accountability regime’.
And it is with the accountability regime that I will finish – because John Cridland has words, too, for Ofsted. He does not mince his words when he talks about the inspectorate saying: ‘In weaker schools, fear of Ofsted drives behaviours which lead to perverse outcomes, instead of better ones. All too often, it’s only the data which matters. And in stronger schools, rebel head teachers succeed in spite of the system, not because of it. All too often, innovation still means rebellion – and it shouldn’t.’
All in all I consider this to be the most important education speech for some time. John Cridland, director general of the CBI cannot be ignored by government. His views cannot be dismissed as ill- informed or protecting the producer interest. I await the government’s response with interest...