Pick ‘n Mix isn’t a recipe for replication

Yesterday Michael Gove announced his plans to overhaul GCSEs and reintroduce an end of course exam for core subjects that is reminiscent of O-levels. If he hadn’t signalled his intention some time ago, I’m sure that many observers would have suggested this was due to the recent marking debacle.

This raises a fundamental question of whether exams are the best way to equip children with the skills and knowledge they need for their futures. There is plenty of evidence to suggest they are not….but that topic is for another day. What interested me most yesterday was the government’s clear intention to copy the ‘very best education systems’, in particular the Finnish approach.

The Finnish system does produce some of the best results in the world in maths and science (in particular), and understandably the Secretary of State would like some of that. But it appears as if the plans laid out yesterday are based in picking bits of the Finnish approach they like, whilst overlooking other fundamentals.

I heard a Finnish academic being interviewed on the radio yesterday and the first question he was asked was ‘what makes your system so good?’. The first words to come out of his mouth were not about class sizes, exams, funding or individual learning plans…he said simply ‘the Finnish system is based on equity’.

This fundamental guiding principle that underpins one of the most successful education systems in the world took me slightly by surprise. Not because I was surprised to hear that, like social policy in other Scandinavian countries, delivered better outcomes for all…but because I had not heard any references to suggest the Secretary of State plans to embed it in the UK.

Of course to do so would require a more fundamental shake-up of our education system than fiddling around with exams for 16 year olds. It would mean wholesale change and an end to the huge educational inequality that exists currently.

When seeking to replicate good practice or social innovation, you cannot simply pick the bits you like and disregard the bits you don’t. This is not education by identikit!

Our education system is a highly complex web of dependencies, relationships and endless ‘moving parts’. To overlook fundamental principles and simply copy a few of the elements that it incorporates and hope it still works is not Grade A work….I’m not even sure it merits a pass!

It smacks of oversimplification and beings to mind a nice quote (the origins of which escape me), which goes along the lines of: Disasters can occur when complex problems are regarded as merely complicated, or even simple ones.

Let’s hope our children’s education are not based on a pick ‘n mix approach to innovation.


One thought on “Pick ‘n Mix isn’t a recipe for replication

  1. Thanks Toby. Am enjoying your forays into education. What do you think equity would look like if we applied it in the British context?In my day job I find myself dealing with policy implications for young people not just from DfE but increasingly also BIS, and there does appear to be a growing divide between their approaches to education and skills. If the scrapping of the GCSE puts more of an emphasis on traditional academic attainment, it’s difficult to see what that does for young people’s employability. Most of the research I’ve done into what constitutes ’employability’ rarely mentions academic attainment….

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s