It’s not all about Maths, English and Science

I have said in this Blog before that I believe the UK education system to be the best in the world. My evidence for that is the number of schools opening in countries such as China which follow the English Curriculum as well as the huge number of families from all over the world who would choose to send their children to a British boarding school if they could get a place. The UK education system is envied not because it teaches children to use adverbs and multiply, but because it is committed to providing children with a myriad of activities every week; compared to other countries, our schools  are teeming with opportunity. Our curriculum is ‘broad and balanced’ – an expression enshrined in the regulations that relate to all UK schools – but an expression we are in danger of ignoring.

The government’s relentless focus on the core subjects of English, Maths and Science has not only started to damage the breadth of our education system, it has led us to begin to believe that those three subjects are so much more important than anything else.

I think the government view is wrong and thankfully Headteachers across the country and here in Southend agree with me. Taking just a few local schools at random: the website for Futures College displays on its front page images of rowing machines, canoeing trips to a lake and drama productions; it publishes the special mention contained in the 2016 Ofsted report praising the extra-curricular programme. Chase High School’s Headteacher, Andrew James, talks of ‘valuing academic performance and personal development in equal measure.’ At The Southend High School for Girls, 11-year-old girls experience ‘flexible-Fridays’ every fortnight – a chance to ‘explore a subject they may not encounter until later in their educational career’.  At my own school, Thorpe Hall, we have ‘Choice Afternoon’ every Wednesday where our 11 to 14-year-olds can choose from a rolling programme of alternative subjects, including things like Diving, Archery, Pottery, stage make-up and Trampoline.

Great Britain has just celebrated its best ever performance at the Olympics and whilst we know that has a lot to do with the Lottery funding, we should not ignore the fact that all those Olympians had left school only a very few years before. The schools they attended, mostly state-funded, have provided them with the support, focus and facilities to become world beaters.

Although the core subjects provide children with essential skills, it is the other half of the curriculum that makes the difference. That’s where they learn to be kind, socially adept, respectful, inventive, creative, imaginative, brave, noble and ambitious. With the government increasingly trying to force young people to expend their energies on the core subjects and a narrow range of humanities subjects, we need to remember that the arts subjects, practical and sporting subjects, genuinely matter. It is our provision of those subjects and the time, effort and money we give them that has made the British education system the envy of the world – not spelling tests and timetables.

So I say let’s continue to support our local Headteachers in their quest to defy the trend which is narrowing our children’s school experience. That means encouraging your child to choose the subject they want to study at GCSE and not just the ones the government thinks are ‘better’. It means making sure your child is properly available and prepared for sporting fixtures, drama productions, trips and any other activity laid on by the school. We have a fantastic education system – let’s appreciate it and support its breadth and variety because that’s what makes it great.