' Personal learning plans will flow from pre-school genetic screening'

21st January 2005 at 00:00
Three think-tank gurus predict the future

By 2025, Britain's population will have risen to nearly 65 million and pensioners will outnumber the under-16s by 2 million. The workforce will have become steadily more feminised. More of us will live alone or cohabit outside marriage. Britain will be even more diverse. There will be third generation British-Kurdish, Afghan and Congolese children starting out in life.

Our world horizons will have shifted even more decisively to the new superpowers of the East. Young Britons will prize family links to India and China. Aspiring diplomats will learn Spanish if they want a posting to Washington. Poverty will have been reduced but social class will still heavily determine life chances. Genetic testing will be widespread and personalised learning plans will flow from pre-school genetic screening and individual environment assessments.

But the jobs market will not be a high-skill nirvana in the grip of a permanent learning revolution. It will have lots of good professional jobs and lots of lower level service jobs, but still fewer in the middle. Many young people will leave school to embark on caring careers.

Are Labour's education policies preparing young people properly for this world? The often repeated charge of utilitarian philistinism is wide of the mark. Labour can plausibly claim to be animated by a substantive vision of education for life, even if not a full-blown classical one.

Standards have risen in the school system. Funding has increased substantially. The basics of literacy and numeracy have improved.

Citizenship education has started to supply a hitherto missing ingredient in preparation for adult life. Even arts and sports are making a comeback in schools.

But inequality in achievement remains profound. Britain ranks well in international tests, yet the spread of attainment is wide between the social classes and different ethnic minority groups. Increasing investment in early childhood care and education will help close the gap as children enter primary schools, but improvements need to be sustained. Programmes such as reading recovery should be implemented nationally for the lowest achieving primary pupils. These children are still losing out.

At secondary level, increased equity will depend more on pupil mix, teacher effectiveness and progressive resource allocation than increased parental choice or governing body status. A careful, phased introduction of the Tomlinson reforms could raise achievement, allow wider and richer programmes of study, and boost staying-on rates post-16.

Overall, the cruder parts of new public management reforms are giving way to a more balanced approach in which transparency and accountability are upheld but professionalism gains renewed legitimacy and scope for action.

Likewise, as their leadership capacity has matured, schools are building new links with communities and other local public services.

To prepare successfully for 2025, the next wave of reform should be patient, with performance targets, assessment regimes, funding allocations and professional development opportunities aligned to these new trends.

Targets and tables should be focused on raising standards for all, not just the top GCSE cohort. There should be more encouragement for institutional collaboration and community links, and funding targeted more aggressively at tackling disadvantage. More scope and reward for bottom-up teacher professionalism are needed.

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