In a speech to the CentreForum think-tank, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Education Sir Michael Wilshaw set out his vision for the future of education in England. Calling for a rejection of the ‘one size fits all’ approach of many secondary schools, he focused instead on the need to provide a technical education for students whose abilities and talents required a different ‘pathway to success’.
Drawing a parallel to European countries with low youth unemployment, Sir Michael highlighted the need for the UK to provide a more flexible education that accounted for the economic needs of the country and developed students according to their ability, rather than a narrow curriculum. The weakness in careers guidance and preparation for employment were pinpointed as part of a general failure to provide a sound technical education for post-16 students, the symptoms of which included a lack of suitable candidates for skilled technical jobs and a widening skills gap. Describing the situation as a ‘moral’ as well as ‘economic’ imperative, he warned that providing an alternative to university education should not mean a dilution of the core curriculum.
In his speech, Sir Michael offered an holistic approach to correcting the structural problems faced by the sector, including joining primary and secondary schools into federations through which the progress of students could be tracked and a more coordinated education provided; forging closer links between schools and nurseries and including a technical college in each federation that catered for 14-19 students, encouraging and developing those whose future is best served with a less academic, more employment-focussed approached to learning. All routes through the federation should, he stated, have ‘equal prestige in the eyes of pupils, teachers and parents.’
Implementing Sir Michael’s reforms would require bold leadership, and key to his vision would be a drive to identify and nurture a generation of leaders with the courage and ability to use the freedoms given to them. A strategic approach to attracting and incentivising those with potential, and replicating best practice from the strongest schools was needed to drive standards and incite a step-change in the quality of education provision in England.