First steps - a new approach for our schools

Education needs to be the #1 issue for the UK

There is no more important issue facing this country than education. Our ambition for our nation's children will determine how our society, economy and country performs in years to come.

Better education could add up to one percent to UK growth every year.

But, more importantly, education is the best way to set children up for life. To give them a proper grounding in the things that help them lead fulfilled lives, get good jobs, and make their way in the world.

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But we fail too many children at the moment

By the age of 4, the poorest children in our country will have heard 32 million fewer words than families from professional backgrounds. A year later, their vocabulary will have fallen a year behind. And by 11, only two thirds will be reaching the level of maths they need to be at.

From primary schools to when children leave education, we have seen a long conveyor belt that has tolerated low performance for too long – and children who often need the most support in reaching their potential are let down by the system.

After decades of piecemeal changes and political reforms, we now have a system that is focused on the average, where by definition half of all children don't perform well enough.

This must be challenged.

We need to build a better education system

The best education systems from around the world have 2 key elements :They have a clear sense of what they want to deliver in terms of knowledge and behaviour, and then they make sure everything they do is aimed at achieving those goals.

  1. They have a clear sense of what they want to deliver in terms of knowledge and behaviour, and then they make sure everything they do is aimed at achieving those goals.
  2. They get parents and communities on board early, and allow schools to build a culture and ethos of rigour in everything they do.

A broader, bolder approach to education in the UK has the potential to be transformational.

We need a much clearer and broader statement of intended achievement for our school systems – in terms of the subjects young people are expected to master, but also the behaviours and attitudes they need to succeed.

And then we need to get parents, teachers and educational leaders right behind these goals to raise expectations for every child in our country and give them what they need to make the most of their life.

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We need to take action right now to start delivering for our children – and our country's future

To achieve this vision for education and give everyone the chance to succeed, we need to act so that:

  1. Schools are clear about their real purpose…by:
    • Stating what we want our schools to deliver – not just grades for exams but also the behaviours and attitudes children need to succeed – and then judging everything against this vision.
    • Defining a new, demanding performance standard for schools to meet based on the whole person we want to develop rather than just exams.
  2. Teachers and leaders are supported to lead
    • Freeing teachers, including heads, to tailor their work to the needs of each child. This can be achieved by accelerating the government's programme of decentralisation of control for all schools in England – and extend it to schools in other parts of the UK too.
    • Enhancing support for the professional development of teachers– whilst also expecting head-teachers to be rigorous managers of their staff, giving them the tools for staff development and reward and, where necessary, dismissal.
  3. Parents are involved right from the start and supported when bringing up their children…by:
    • Getting schools to adopt a strategy for improved parental engagement, wider community involvement and forging links with business.
    • Business making a new commitment for a strategic, long-term engagement to a needs-led school programme, focusing on raising aspiration and attainment.
    • Expanding access to high quality, structured childcare is an essential step towards stopping children falling behind early in life. And making it much more affordable needs to be a priority.
  4. And expectations are raised for every
    • Setting clearly defined goals on literacy, numeracy, science and computer science for primary school children – and making them more stretching than the current national curriculum.
    • Improving primary school teaching quality and introducing a new approach to the school transfer at 11, addressing the current performance drift between the ages of seven and 12.
    • Moving the exam focus to age 18 (including a shift away from GCSEs) – with maths and English retained for all, but with stretching exams for both academic and vocational routes.
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This report deals with the most important part of the UK's long-term growth strategy - improving education. As our work sets out, the potential economic gain from getting this right is enormous, yet today we have a system where a large minority of our young people fall behind early and never catch up. This is not acceptable. John Cridland, CBI director-general

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