England's young adults trail world in literacy and maths

Roger Titcombe's picture

This latest OECD survey of the basic skills competence of 'young adults' in England and Northern Ireland was reported on the BBC News website as follows.

The conclusions are devastating in their criticisms of the education systems in these parts of the UK.

No sooner than it appeared, 'industry spokespersons' were wheeled out arguing that this showed that more teaching of 'basic skills' was needed.

For decades schools have been under enormous and increasing league table and OfSTED pressure to meet ever rising floor targets in GCSE English and maths, which have been described by the government as vital indicators of the acquisition of these 'basic skills'. As a result of this, combined with the competitive pressure of league tables in a marketised system, GCSE results in these subjects have dramatically increased.

The following questions come to mind.

1. Given the scale of the current failure, how can 'even more of the same' be the solution?

2. The results do not apply to Wales and Scotland, where, like the most successful countries in the survey, there is little diversity of school types and there are no school league tables. So why does Michael Gove persist in believing that these things raise standards?

3. Could it be that the real problem is that degraded, behaviourist teaching methods, that rely on revision, repetition and cramming, the perverse outcomes of marketisation, produce shallow learning that is forgotten within days of leaving the exam room?

I have long been arguing that for 'basic skills' like all other learning, to take root in the minds of learners then high quality developmental teaching is needed, not the results focussed cramming that does the business for school league tables

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