Damian Hinds’s term of office as Education Secretary has got off to a promising start. At the recent Education World Forum in London he made some sensible comments about the importance of balancing academic, vocational and technological provision. He was also forthright in his support for the ‘character, resilience and workplace skills that our young people take with them’. He rightly observed that these stem, in part, from the ‘ethos of a school, the expectations set for students’ and activities such as ‘sport, public speaking and voluntary work’. So far, so good, for Mr Hinds.
Good intentions, sadly, have to confront reality. It was Andreas Schleicher, director of education for the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), who spelt this out for Mr Hinds at the same conference. Twenty per cent of UK 15-year-olds are neither literate nor numerate. They become a great mass of unemployable school leavers. Things need to change, as Schleicher pointed out: ‘If the United Kingdom were to ensure that all students had at least basic skills, the economic gains could reach $3.6trillion (£2.58trillion) in additional income for the economy over the working life of these students.’
How our self-congratulatory education system has brought us to this lamentable state of affairs deserves a Royal Commission of inquiry. It is certainly not about expenditure, as the educational establishment, the Blob, would have us believe. We spend more per pupil head than most countries around the globe – seven times more than Vietnam, for example, whose pupils are far ahead of the UK on the OECD pupil performance tests.
Whatever his DfE officials may advise Mr Hinds to do, whatever the teacher unions may warn him against doing, and whatever the educational experts may claim, some simple truths are irrefutable. In most respects our schools no longer compete with the best education systems internationally. Our 15-year-olds are unique amongst those of developed countries in failing to keep pace with the attainment levels achieved by their grandparents.
The Education Secretary’s recognition of the need to improve ‘character, resilience and workplace skills’ needs to be addressed as much to the educational establishment, including many teachers and teacher-trainers, as to pupils. It also needs to be addressed to his own departmental officials. For the good of our children and of our country, we must hope that Damian Hinds is a quick learner.