Britain's education system is 'failing on every measure' - with 'shocking' regional disparities uncovered

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Education systems across Britain are "failing on every measure" and 60% of parents don't believe schools prepare pupils for work, according to The Times Education Commission.

The commission said that while the pandemic was a "disaster" for young people, both in terms of their mental health and the widening of the disadvantage gap, the "flaws" predate the pandemic.

The year-long project was chaired by Times columnist Rachel Sylvester and supported by 22 commissioners from a range of fields, as well as two former prime ministers and 13 former education secretaries.

Their report recommended that every child should have access to a laptop or tablet, and that counsellors should be employed in every school.

It also called for teachers to receive more training on how to identify pupils with special educational needs.

Clive Searl, the headteacher at Worthington Primary School in Greater Manchester, agreed with most of the review's recommendations and said it is time for parity of resources between state and private school students.

He said struggling to find electronic devices for students to be able to work from home during lockdown was a problem exclusive to state schools.

The commission's report also found that there are "shocking" regional disparities when it comes to early years pupils.

One primary school in Nottinghamshire reported that some children arrived at school unable to say their own names and that 50% of their pupils in reception and nursery were not toilet trained.

Geoff Barton, General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders and one of the report's commissioners, said the pandemic had left the education sector in a "meltdown".

He added: "The consequences of that are being felt by children of all ages and from all backgrounds, but particularly the most disadvantaged who didn't have the access to the technology and devices that for other children was crucial.

"The problem now is we have to play catch-up while revitalising the education system."

The report recommended an army of undergraduate tutors to help pupils to catch up.

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But Mr Searl said the government already has a National Tutoring Programme that does not work effectively.

"During the pandemic, schools found that tutors were unavailable and didn't show [up] when they were meant to. It was expensive and wasn't really meeting the needs of individual pupils, as we in school know those needs."

Mr Searl said the government should provide extra money for tutors but ministers should not be in charge of the programme.

The commission also raised concerns about the impact of exams on pupils' emotional wellbeing.

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Polling by YouGov found that 65% of parents think the current school system places too much emphasis on exams, and 56% of parents felt this was bad for students' mental health.

Helen Tebbutt's daughter Chloe McLean attends Worthington Primary School and said: "She's in Year 6 so she's just gone through SATs. There are lots of formative assessments.

"Teachers know their children… without having those sitdown formal assessments."

The commission's report called for a "British Baccalaureate" offering a broader range of both academic and vocational qualifications at 18, with a "slimmed-down" set of exams at 16 as opposed to GCSEs.

"Let's stop defining young people ultimately as a grade," Mr Barton said.

"Let's recognise that, of course, academic success is important, but other things are important as well.

"And I think parents looking in on education through COVID will say: 'I want more for my young person, for their mental health, for their wellbeing, but for them to be recognised for the range of skills and talents they've got.'"

The commission also called for an "electives premium" for all schools to fund drama, music, dance and sport, as well as a National Citizenship Service experience for every pupil to ensure that poorer pupils can access outdoor expeditions and volunteering.

A Department for Education spokesperson said: "We thank the Times Education Commission for its report and always welcome new ideas and views from the sector and education experts.

"Our Schools White Paper sets out a clear roadmap for levelling up education in England, including targeted support both for individual pupils who fall behind and whole areas of the country where standards are weakest, alongside ambitious targets for raising pupil attainment by the end of primary school and GCSEs.

"Our ambitious education recovery programme is already getting children back on track following the pandemic, with the revolutionary National Tutoring Programme providing nearly two million courses of high-quality tuition for the children and young people who need it most, together with additional funding for schools to use to provide further tailored support for pupils."

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