Time for major reform & new opportunities, says GSA President

Time for major reform & new opportunities, says GSA President

6 September 2021

Samantha Price, incoming Girls’ Schools Association President and Head of Benenden School, calls for educational reform and an ‘era of opportunity’ for young people.

In her first week as 2021/22 President for the Girls’ Schools Association (‘GSA’), headteacher Samantha Price said we should create ‘a new era of opportunity for young people’:

“We have just lived through one of the most disruptive periods in the history of UK education. We have all been forced to operate differently over the past 18 months and this has shone a light on the reality that there are parts of the education system that can be improved. We all want the best for young people, but sometimes the systems we put in place become outdated and unwieldy and stand in their way. I’d really like to see us take a fresh look at assessment and how we can deliver relevant opportunities to more young people. I’d like us to embrace:

  • continued and enhanced digital learning
  • a reformed examinations system
  • reforms to the university admissions process
  • continued support for mental health

and to support young people in finding effective ways to voice the issues that really matter to them.

“Now is surely the time for us all to sit down together – state and independent schools, colleges, universities, employers and the Government – and create a new era of opportunity for young people.”

The Girls’ Schools Association represents the Heads of a diverse range of mainly independent UK girls’ schools. Whilst acknowledging that opinions differ, in order to create fairer opportunities for all young people, Mrs Price urged the government and educationalists to seriously consider reviewing GCSE and A Level assessment, expectations about university, the university admissions system itself, and to adopt a more concerted focus on apprenticeships as an alternative to university. She said:

“Not all my fellow school leaders may agree, but it’s my personal view that we should seriously look at how we assess young people at age 16 & 18, consider whether terminal, written exams really are fit for purpose, and move to a post A Level university and apprenticeship application system which will be fairer for all.

“Some children and teachers have developed highly proficient digital technology skills over the last 18 months. The Government already has a strategy to develop the use of technology in education, but some schools have moved on significantly in a short space of time and there is surely an opportunity for a national working party to look at the positive educational impact of this and how it might influence both the national curriculum as well as how we assess progress and attainment.”

Mrs Price believes that we need to challenge the expectation that the obvious route for bright students is the traditional university degree. She said:

“I think we have reached the point where we need to acknowledge that a traditional university degree is not the only route for our brightest and best, whatever their background.

“The extent to which universities may or may not offer value for money has been questioned for a number of years, with pastoral care and accommodation now taking equal place with teaching quality and contact time. Lingering student loan debt long into adulthood is a very real problem not only for individuals but also for the country as a whole.

“Growing numbers of young people are now considering apprenticeships and I do think that schools which have for years pointed their students towards traditional university degrees should take apprenticeships seriously. They provide immediate employability and industry training, some come with a built-in opportunity to acquire a degree or other qualification, and there is some evidence that they may provide greater financial reward to the individual in the long term.

“This isn’t a case of apprenticeships being ‘better’ than a traditional university degree. They are simply different, and it’s time we left behind a ‘one size fits all’ mentality.”

For those young people who do wish to pursue the traditional university degree route, the GSA’s new president believes that a post-qualification applications/offers system will minimise the negative mental health impact of striving for the ‘holy grail’ of grades:

“For school students with their sights on a traditional university degree course, we need to overhaul the admissions system to embrace either post-qualification offers or applications. This would be a much fairer system for all young people and would reduce the pressure on them in their final year of school. Instead of negotiating predicted grades and worrying about whether they will literally ‘make the grade’ upon which their university place depends, students could focus on their studies and enjoy the friendships and life-enhancing extra-curricular opportunities of their final year of school, which are just as important to their long-term futures.

“We have to recognise that there is a mental health crisis in our country’s young people. Doing away with predicted grade offers and moving to a post-qualification system would minimise the negative impact of striving for the ‘holy grail’ of grades. It would also go a long way towards levelling the playing field for all students, irrespective of background.

The GSA’s new President also advocates a change to the academic calendar to accommodate post-qualification applications/offers. She said:

“There are a number of ways schools could adjust their calendars to make post-qualification applications or offers a reality. We could bring A Level exams forward, complete them by the end of May, and release the results earlier to enable UCAS and universities to process everything in time for an autumn start. Alternatively, funding issues aside, the university year could begin in January, for all students or just for first year undergraduates, reducing the traditional nine term degree to eight terms.”

This news has been reported in The Times (£), The Telegraph, The Guardian, Tes, Daily Mail, a wide range of regional publications including the Evening Standard, Independent Education Today, School Management Plus, BBC Radio Kent and LBC Radio.

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