Something that will always provoke debate is what our children should learn at school. However, the focus is often on how children are assessed rather than what they are actually learning.
But the discussion is rich at the moment. The reforms to GCSE and A level represent the biggest change to the exam system in a generation. Much emotion has been stirred by the way the government seems to have shifted emphasis towards traditional academic subjects with the introduction of the EBacc. Arts subjects are feeling the squeeze and even being pushed off the curriculum. Some worry that creativity is being stifled.
Another common denominator is that businesses continue to complain that schools are not preparing young people for the world of work. The skills gap is always mentioned in any commentary on the UK employment landscape.
So, are there things that children should learn at school, but aren’t currently getting the opportunity to do so?
Life skills vs academic knowledge
The big loser in terms of curriculum time in recent years has been anything other than preparation for exams (especially in core subjects). This matters because it means that Personal, Health and Social Education, Citizenship, and the likes have found themselves squeezed off the curriculum.
Important life skills such as learning about financial management, or how to eat healthily might be covered at some point – but are such fundamentally important life skills things that should be merely ‘touched upon’ at school?
Learning how to deal with personal relationships, the dangers of the internet and social media are pivotal in the lives of young people – surely they demand more curriculum time?
Mental health and wellbeing
The media constantly reminds us that more young people than ever before are experiencing mental health issues. This is no surprise in a school system that is driven by target grades. It comes as no shock that the UK ranks poorly against other nations in terms of pupil wellbeing. Of course, young people face stresses and pressures outside of school too. This is why pupils should be actively taught strategies to build resilience and to cope with pressure. Young people need to have a good awareness of the importance of mental health and wellbeing.
Preparing young people for work and life
Academic qualifications will probably always be used as a measure of ability and potential, and can be used as entry requirements into certain careers. But academic results only ever tell part of the story. Life skills and soft skills – the sort that can’t be assessed in a terminal examination – are often the key factors in success or failure.
Right now, the balance is very much in the favour of academic results. Only time will tell whether the new GCSEs and A-levels will better prepare young people for the future than those that have gone before them. Chances are, they won’t.
Academic qualifications are vital. However, life and soft skills are equally important. These skills should be taught at school.