With dramatic changes to the UK education system sparking debate across the nation, educators, students and politicians alike are expressing their hopes and concerns about the future of our young people.
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With dramatic changes to the UK education system sparking debate across the nation, educators, students and politicians alike are expressing their hopes and concerns about the future of our young people. Oli Mooney looks at both sides of the debate.

While we can’t all agree that we look back on our memories of school with fondness, one ideal which is almost universally shared is that education plays a crucial role in determining our future lives and careers, that a good education is crucial to a prosperous future.

Recently, the education system in this country has faced criticism over the level of freedom and choice that young people possess when forming their own paths to follow. Some educators have argued that the GCSE syllabus has become increasingly rigid and could stifle students’ creativity. It has been suggested that the switch to linear, more exam-based A Levels puts those who struggle with controlled examinations at a greater disadvantage.

Changes to the UK education system have come under an increasing amount of criticism from educators and politicians who claim that young people are being made to specialise too early, holding some back from achieving their true potential; GCSEs being a prime example here.

By 2020, all GCSE students will be required to study the subjects in the English Baccalaureate: Mathematics, English Language and Literature, Science, a language and either Geography or History.

Though the first four listed are already required, the addition of the latter three to the compulsory list limits young people’s choices on what they wish to study.

Changes to the UK education system have come under an increasing amount of criticism.

Abbie, a Journalism student at the University of Sheffield, described how she was pushed towards taking Ebacc subjects after being told it would improve her university potential.

“I was forced into it and it didn’t help me at all,” she told Forge Press. “I was constantly stressed and made myself ill because of the language aspect.”

One Head of Sixth-Form Forge spoke to also identifies an issue with the Ebacc reform.”There is a feeling in some areas that performing arts and technology are going by the wayside as subjects that do not count,” she said.

An even bigger problem, she told Forge, has to do with the way GCSEs are now being taught, putting serious pressure on younger students.

Just two years into secondary school, some children are being forced to make important decisions which could permanently affect their future education and employment prospects. “My main concern is schools that get their students to select subjects at the end of Year 8, so three years are spent on GCSE courses in an attempt to boost grades.”

Changes are also being made to the way that A Levels work, and these changes, too, have come under fire.

The new linear A Level sees the removal of AS exams previously taken in the first year, and instead requires students to take all exams at the end of an intense two-year course, with the amount of coursework also being reduced in many subjects.

Some critics have expressed concern that the new, less flexible system may mean that students feel less in control of their path of education. Students will no longer be able to take an AS exam and then drop a subject if they feel that they won’t excel in it, or don’t feel as though they can make the full two-year commitment.

The Head of Sixth Form agreed that the changes to the A Level create this issue: “I think narrowing down to three A levels from the start is a retrograde step.”

“Firstly, Year 11 students are not sure what they want to do beyond school, and four subjects give them more flexibility. The option to gain a qualification of an AS at the end of the first year was ideal and demonstrated to admissions tutors that a student had some breadth to their Key Stage 5 studies.”

Some have argued that certain subjects are more worth learning than others.

There are, however, two sides to every story. The Head did acknowledge that there were some good sides to the A Level reforms: “I do see students developing over the two years and some students who may not have done so well at AS level really getting their act together in Year 13 as it all begins to slot into place.

“Once students start looking at university entry requirements they start to focus on achieving their best.”

She also explained how the new A Level system is beneficial in that it challenges students to really think for themselves: “The linear A level is a story of two halves. Firstly, students must master the challenging content as laid out in the specification, and then they have to be able to apply it in novel situations. There are fewer straightforward recall questions and they really have to think.”

The new GCSE reforms are also perhaps beneficial for young people. Some have argued that certain subjects are more worth learning than others; in this case, the Ebacc subjects.

As Filip, an Architecture student at the University of Sheffield student, said: “I think they’re pretty fundamental subjects to develop your world understanding.”

Another student, Megan, said that being forced to study certain subjects that seemed unappealing in Year 9 helped her work out what she eventually wanted to study at university.

Like GCSEs and A Levels, the rigidity of UK university courses has also come under fire, as British universities do not provide as much variety in learning as other countries.

American universities, for instance, offer students the chance to study a wide range of subjects within their first year before choosing a speciality in their second. This allows them to try out different disciplines before settling on a specialism. However, several students at the University of Sheffield expressed their doubts that we would be better off taking a leaf out of the American book.

Filip can see some benefits to the American system; “It would help people who are less decisive, and maybe even draw in people if they didn’t have to choose an area of study straight away”.
However, Filip believed the UK university system was more suited to his preferences: “Going to uni at 19, I feel like I don’t want to be studying various subjects with ‘applicable skills’ anymore.”

Abbie, too, felt that studying a wide range in the first year would be a turn-off.

“I think if I had to do a variety of subjects in the first year, I wouldn’t go to uni.”

She also felt that the high cost of university meant that students may view studying various subjects, which they may be less interested in, for a year as a waste of money: “University is expensive. If you spend a year doing whatever, it’s a waste.”

Words by Oli Mooney
Image credit: Graham Hogg