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Top Headteacher calls for GCSEs and A-Levels to be scrapped

Master of Wellington College sets out radical education reforms at annual Cass lecture

Friday, 10 December, 2010

GCSEs and A-Levels have turned schools into exam factories and should be scrapped under radical reforms outlined by the head of one of Britain’s leading independent schools.

Dr Anthony Seldon, the historian and master of Wellington College, used the fourth Sir John Cass Foundation lecture to call for a major rethink of the education system.  The young crave for such reform, the teachers deserve it and the country needs it, he said.

Setting out his vision, Dr Seldon said children should be split into three teaching streams academic, technical and vocational. This would ensure that whatever talents children have can be properly developed and encouraged in the relevant environment.

He also criticised the current exam system saying it merely rewards memory and not intellect and has programmed children to regurgitate facts at the expense of creativity and the development of life skills.

He said schools should be places where children can learn to both think and feel, with creativity as important as literacy and numeracy.  More emphasis should be put on sport, music, dance, visual art and creative writing.

Dr Seldon also used the lecture to reveal the results of a major new study into what more than 1,500 students think about their university life.

The study, commissioned by Sir John Cass’s Foundation, shows the profound impact that money and work worries are having on young people’s experience of, and choices about, higher education.

A third are living at home, and a quarter say they are stressed and overstretched by university life. One in five is not satisfied by the amount of direct contact with lecturers or tutors. One in five wish they were studying either something else, or somewhere else.

Anxieties about future employment show in answer to a question about what universities should concentrate on most for undergraduates, with a quarter wanting universities to offer career building skills to help students to get a job once they graduate, not something most traditional courses offer.

Education is about life, not just working life." said Dr Seldon. While vocational or career choices were always in people’s minds, the sense now is that money and fear of future job prospects have come to dominate.

Universities must continue to offer holistic opportunities in the arts, in sport, and all round enrichment, which prepares young people for the world of work and life.  Failure to do this will result in universities failing to offer the enriching experience that they should be providing, and will continue the exodus to universities in the United States and elsewhere abroad.

Kevin Everett, Chairman of Sir John Cass’s Foundation said the survey indicated that a national debate needs to be undertaken about the future direction of higher education. Whilst it seems the majority of students in this survey rate their university experience and overall quality as high, one in five feel they are not getting all they wish or expected, he said.

The Sir John Cass’s Foundation Lecture is given annually by a policy maker or commentator and seeks to advance the debate of charity and business working together to promote education. The three previous speakers were Michael Gove, Andrew Adonis and Ed Balls.

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