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 🙂