The recent news features about state school students outperforming private students at university have raised a few questions and theories about how to explain the ‘unexplained gap’ from all sides of the educational domain. Understandably, if you’ve forked out thousands for years of education you’d rather not rely on any connections to get ahead in place of academic success, and equally, if you’re paying for extra tuition you want to know it’s having an impact.
Anecdotally I know of people who have been coached, by either parents or professional tutors, throughout their school life, achieving high grades until the point where they no longer had that support and found themselves unable to study on their own. Whether that’s due to constant nagging to get work done, parental ‘input’ in coursework or being given revision plans instead of working it out for themselves, it’s not an unusual occurrence.
When we talk about exams and qualifications with our pupils we place so much pressure on that particular moment, those particular results; yet for most of us they’re just a stepping stone to the next phase. There’s no way we’re going to downplay what they’re working towards of course, and I think for some children (certainly with our lot) focusing too far ahead is overwhelming, but I do think it’s something for us (the grown ups) to keep in mind.
Thinking about where my peers have ended up is an interesting (and perhaps scary) exercise. People I was in a class with from 7-16 are in jobs as wide ranging as pub landlord, shop assistant and deputy headteacher. People I was in a class with from 11-18 include a web designer, an MP, a psychiatrist and a chiropodist. We all had the same education (state FWIW). We all had the same access to the same subjects, with the same teachers, and we’ve all gone down different routes. Some went to university, some travelled, some had decided what they wanted to do when they were in infant school and some took a while to choose. Obviously parts of this can be put down to different life experiences and we all know, try as they can, schools can’t force outcomes from children. Even within my own family though my brothers and I have gone for very diverse pathways. Between us there’s a teaching assistant, an architect, and Andy kills Mufasa every night* in the West End. *not every night. The other day he mended the Sun.
My point is that… I’m not sure what my point is.
Education prepares you and takes you to the next step. For most people, once they’ve got the GCSEs to get into their post-16 experience of choice, no one asks for their GCSE results (maybe a requirement for a grade in certain subjects). Once they have the required A level grades for university, no one needs to know those. Once they have a degree it’s about experience and fighting for jobs with everyone else. None of that’s new information of course, but it shouldn’t be surprising that the same education leads to different futures with different needs and values.
We like to measure things though. Especially if we’re doing well. This article highlighted today by Carl Hendrick explains quite clearly our need to be one-up, how we see some things as intrinsically better or more valuable. In education this is the same; we’re held accountable for everything we do whether that’s in school, parents, government or in the press – no one wants to be the one that’s seen to break the chain of progress.
The thing I think is most important that we take from the performance at university story is that we have a responsibility to think about preparing pupils for the next phase so they don’t flounder. Yes, our job is to arm them with the knowledge and skills to pass the next set of tests, but the way we do that should ensure that once they’ve moved to the next step they can keep going, so if working without the supports that got them there turns out to be a factor in success, they’ve got a chance. Equally of course, we need to keep the curriculum as wide a we can to allow them to refine their choices as they go and find out what they really love.