Headteacher Samantha Price has used her first week as 2021/22 President for the Girls’ Schools Association (GSA) to call for ‘a new era of opportunity for young people’.
The GSA represents the Heads of a diverse range of mainly independent UK girls’ schools – Price has 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.
“We have just lived through one of the most disruptive periods in the history of UK education,” said Price. “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 We all want the best for young people, but sometimes the systems we put in place become outdated and unwieldy and stand in their way.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.
“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.”
Price added that it was her personal view that the country 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,” Price continued. “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.”
Price believes that we need to challenge the expectation that the obvious route for bright students is the traditional university degree: “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.”