My Thoughts on the Education System | Collab with Debbie!

Along with many other people in the UK, I’m very lucky to have a good education. However, there are still a lot of problems with the education system that those who don’t experience are quick to dismiss. In a collab with Debbie – you can read her post on her blog – we’re going to write about the issues that are closest to us.

For me, the transition from GCSEs to A-Levels was particularly difficult, an opinion shared with a lot of people in my year and the year below. With the transfer from “less challenging” GCSEs to “more challenging” A-Levels, most teachers and students alike were struggling. We had no idea what was really expected of us as in many subjects, there were either very few or no past papers at all. Those who took GCSEs recently or are going to take them soon will have had a similar problem. We were told to learn independently, to “go beyond” the subject but GCSEs, or pre-GCSEs, hadn’t shown us how to do that. It felt like we were jumping in at the deep end of a swimming pool with no markings as to how deep it was. There’s this idea that figuring out your own independent learning style is all part of the process of learning but we were expected to do that, not having done that before; we were expected to learn so much content, apply it in ways we’d never done before, all whilst battling our own anxieties and personal pressures. If we couldn’t keep up; if we learned in a different way or if our concepts of success didn’t match up to the exam board’s or government’s or the vague “threat” of universities or employers, it felt like a failure.

It’s not all to do with the last 4-5 years of schooling, in that expectations of “how we should learn” go right back to the start. We’re told what books would best suit us – you can read more about that in this post by Izzy – given “advice” on careers based on predicted grades and behaviour, and examined from such a young age that the constant banner of success is waved over people’s heads and those who don’t achieve that are automatically labelled by teachers and others as not being “academic”, when academia isn’t the only way that someone can live a life which makes them happy. I’m making massive generalisations here but often, the way in which we learn is subject to these same generalisations. People are crammed into smaller boxes of 1-9 or A-G, into “smart” or “not smart”, into “likes to read so should be good at this” or “likes Maths so should go into this profession”. That’s not even touching on the idea of “one learning style fits all”, which restricts so many people.

Blaming “the school” as a whole would be counter-productive and wouldn’t solve any problems as a lot of the time, it’s a student’s willingness to learn – or lack of it – that stops people from learning. However, people are too quick to entirely blame students’ “laziness” for the difficulties that they face. How can it be an individual’s fault if they’re never given encouragement by teachers, never shown a way to learn that fits them and never shown that their aspirations don’t have to fall in line with the academic, English-Maths-Science expectations that are pushed so forcefully onto everyone so that they can “be successful?” With the new system of GCSEs and A-Levels, it’s even harder to achieve the top grades and so those who don’t work in the way the exam boards want are more likely to feel unhappy and so less likely to work as productively.

Most people work in different ways to each other. Some prefer group work and some prefer individual study; some need to revise in one session whereas others need to spread their revision out; some need support from teachers and their friends whereas others find that support within themselves or in other places. I don’t feel as if enough support or emphasis, on the whole, is given to those individual learning styles – it would be incredibly difficult to cater to everyone’s needs when in a large group of students but it’s too often assumed that everyone can work in exactly the same style. The good thing about A-Levels is that much more support is given by teachers as they have more time to do this but by the time A-Levels come around, it can be difficult for some people to know that they can get support if they haven’t had it before. In GCSEs and before that, those that received a lot of one-to-one or individualised support from teachers most often come from fee-paying schools. There are many exceptions but teachers in an average state school don’t usually have enough time to help the students that need it most.

With coursework disappearing and linear subjects being prioritised, there’s a huge importance given to exams. Yes, this system worked better for me in some ways but not in others and for a lot of people, examined subjects won’t be the best way to help them learn. SEN (Special Educational Needs) funding, which directly affects me and people I know, is being cut; resources aren’t being provided for SEN students in education but because of the constant pressure to get better grades, to improve your chances of getting into university, thoughts are being focused more on the students who attain more 9s or A*s. The problems with SEN deserve a whole other post and I’m not sure I’d even be the best person to write about them.

There are positives to the current education system, of course. More vocational courses are being offered at colleges; apprenticeships are being encouraged more widely and different learning styles are slowly being taken into account. Saying that, this is only the start and more needs to be done. Performing and visual arts subjects have been dropped from the curriculum of some schools which restricts those who are more creative from expressing themselves. People need to become more aware that not everything should be based on academic results and improvement of exam achievements doesn’t always mean improvement of people’s lives.

What do you think about the education system and how people learn? Let me know in the comments and don’t forget to check out Debbie’s post! It was amazing to collab with her and to get my (complicated and somewhat ranty) thoughts out!

Love from Elm 🙂

21 thoughts on “My Thoughts on the Education System | Collab with Debbie!

  1. yes yes yes I agree with you! although I really enjoyed my education, especially at A Level (beep beep nerd coming through), I really struggled during exam season. Although the government may justify the new, exam-based A Levels, I wasn’t a fan, and the pressure that I heaped upon myself during the exam period meant that I didn’t perform at my best and probably have jeopardised my dream uni place in the process. I absolutely agree that the ‘one (academic) size fits all’ approach does not work (do you hear me, Michael Gove??), and although I’m relatively academic, I’m more creative and feel that that side of me has been pushed away by the system. (also don’t get me started on the state of funding – bloody nightmare) Fabby post!!!

  2. I’m moving from high school to sixth form in September and have no idea what to expect!! I definitely think that too much pressure is put on students when it comes to exams – although it may be good and act as motivation for some people, I think for many it can hinder them and drastically affect the mental health of the students. I really liked reading this post btw!!! Xx

  3. 100% agree! I feel as though the government treats education like a quick fix scheme, refusing to pay attention to any of the deeper problems and instead talk to a couple people who will probably just back their opinion for the sake of it. I think the people running our education systems should have exposure at the forefront, talk to headmasters, teachers, students, people from across the spectrum, so they can actually gain insight into what needs to be done with the education system in this country, rather than wild guessing.

    I’m really glad we did this collab as I think everyone has, although sometimes similar, individual opinions about these things, as they affect all parts of our lives.

    • Yes, precisely! I think the government needs to get more of a range of opinions and listen to those most affected in a negative way. If you only listen to positive stories, then the negative won’t have an impact.

      Thank you so much!! You have such interesting insights; I love it!

  4. Finding out my learning style took me a really long time! I guess I was very fortunate. I got to miss the new GCSE’s but I came across the problem of no past papers in A-level. It’s so frustrating because there’s no point in learning everything, if we don’t have a chance to test the knowledge. Your point about categorizing everyone based on grades – I absolutely agree with. Ironically, the very person who designed examination said that schools shouldn’t test intelligence and knowledge only on exams.

    • Ugh!! Honestly, I get so frustrated with the lack of empathy that the government can feel towards students, as if one solution will fix all and then they just move on or cut school’s funding so that the least privileged have the worst of it and can’t speak up to get help. I took ages to find my learning style, too 😦 It took me years, I’d say. Thanks so much for this comment! X

  5. This is really well written and I agree with all of it. I did amazingly in some German classes because the teacher’s learning style matched mine almost exactly, but with others I struggled- not because I wasn’t passionate but because I wasn’t learning as well as I could have. It’s a huge morale crusher to go from success to anything less, and it stops you trying, leading to a spiral of failure. Schools really need to address these problems or people are going to be locked out of subjects they’re passionate about and have the potential to be good at.

    • Exactly!! That’s the same with me and languages – I had so much trouble with French in Year 12 whereas before, I felt like I breathed the language. Similar things happen with art subjects as well as music, where a previously alight passion could be crushed.

      Thank you so much for the comment; I think it’s important that the government need to pay attention to the wellbeing and future prospects of students, as opposed to how such results will make them appear to other countries/how it will improve the appearance of their future policies.

      • Exactly! The government is so focused on making our exams harder so we can look like China, but they’re ignoring the glaring problem that the students aren’t at a cultural standpoint where they can rival the Chinese students work ethics or even just abilities.

  6. Reblogged this on The Girl with Ironwings and commented:
    A change in the modern education system is something I’ve always advocated for. As a student, it is we who have first hand experience with the inner dealings of the current system and how really terrible the pressure is, and how it jeopardizes and thrashed down our inner creativity and imagination
    Intelligence seems to be measured by memory power and there can’t be something stupider than that. There are kids who slave every day memorizing and never spend any time trying to actually like or understand what they are doing.
    This is a beautiful piece by my dearest friend Elm and everything she says is 100% true because I’m kind of experiencing it all ditto. Ugh. But I’ll never ever stop voicing out even if it takes a 100 years for this to change.

  7. Exactly! The government is so focused on making our exams harder so we can look like China.hank you so much!! You have such interesting insights; I love it!

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