Business leaders call for less rote learning in schools

The Confederation of British Industry calls for politicians to 'dump the ideology' in education policy and instead reform the curriculum

Helen Ward

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Business leaders will today call for the education system to deliver more than academic results and to rely less on rote learning.

Pitting "rigorous testing" against the "rounded development" of pupils is a false dichtomy, Paul Drechsler, president of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), will tell delegates at the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) conference in Birmingham.

And he will call for an Education Commission to be set up to “bypass turf wars” and end a "fixation" on school structures and exam reform.

“Teachers’ jobs are not just difficult because the world is changing, it’s also made more difficult by years of moving the goal posts in public policy,” Mr Dreschler will say.

“Those failures have culminated in today’s debate between the extremes of rigorous testing on the one hand, and the rounded development of a young person on the other.

“It’s a false dichotomy – and one set in the context of our schools system, where not enough money is allocated in public budgets. It’s time to reset the debate.”

He will say that while academic achievement matters, achievement alone is not enough to succeed either in work – or in wider society. 

'Dump the ideology'

Mr Dreschler will say that the OECD has found English policymakers are responding to its performance in international rankings in a different way to other nations – by doing more rote learning than almost anywhere else. Other countries encourage students to take responsibility for their own learning, he is expected to add.

“Yes, times tables are important," Mr Dreschler will say. "But if memorising facts is all students are doing, there’s much they are missing out on…Let’s dump the ideology – no more fixation on school structures and exam reform. It is time for a national, rational debate on how we help our young people succeed. And then let’s reform the curriculum to deliver the results we need.

“It sounds simple.  But here’s what worries me.  Perhaps our politicians are too entrenched. Perhaps the ideological commitments hold too firm a grip. Perhaps old habits die hard. We should take ownership – let’s persuade our politicians to set up a new Education Commission.

“This commission could bypass the turf wars. It should have a broad membership – educational leadership, businesses, young people, parents and politicians – people who understand education and want our country to succeed.”

Calls from CBI

The CBI has previously called for Ofsted inspections to place as much importance on students’ personal development as they do on exam results.

In 2014, the business lobby organisation called for greater focus on the “holistic” development of pupils and for schools and colleges to be given a separate grade for "personal development".

The DfE has been contacted for comment.

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Helen Ward

Helen Ward

Helen Ward is a reporter at Tes

Find me on Twitter @teshelen

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