The month of May. Dreaded by parents, teachers and children alike. Up and down the country, swarms of school and university students will be settling down to sit exams. GCSE's, AS levels, A-levels, undergraduate, postgraduate- the list goes on. All struggling to obtain those all important qualifications in a world where having the majority of the alphabet after your name does not guarantee a job, a secure career or personal wellbeing. And it seems that the current and future wellbeing of today's students is playing on the minds of the media and educational worlds alike.
With government proposals to keep children in education until they are 18 due to begin in the next academic year, the findings of Manchester Universities study certainly makes for interesting parallel reading. The study analysed 14,000 school leavers of the 1940's when the leaving age was raised from 14 to 15. The participants were split into two groups- those who left school before the 1947 age increase and those who were made to stay on an extra year.
Through extensive cognitive tests and questionnaires the survey revealed that although those who remained in school an extra year were more likely to have 'better mental abilities in old age', the study found there to be no ' "statistically significant" effect on wellbeing or quality of life'. It is hard to predict whether or not the findings would be the same for today's school leavers, but it does raise some interesting points. For today's youth, staying on into further education is fast becoming the only option in a world where educational merit is valued above skilled trade and creative ability. The lack of trade apprenticeships and on-the-job training means that children are increasingly finding their worth being defined by means of their educational attainment, rather than their individual skills and abilities. Perhaps the real focus should not be on forcing children to stay within the educational system for longer, but reimagining our industry and shaping it to utilise the skills of all our young people, not just the academically gifted. Only when young people feel a sense of worth and an ability to contribute to society will they truly feel a greater sense of wellbeing.
And it seems that it is not only school leavers who are under scrutiny. Education expert, Dr Richard House, claims that children would do better in life should they be allowed to start school at a later age. Condemning the current system of starting children on the educational treadmill from the age of 5, Dr House calls for the end of the 'adultification' of young children. Drawing attention to how the UK has one of the earliest school starting ages in Europe, Dr House claims that 'the evidence is now quite overwhelming that such an early introduction to institutional learning is not only quite unnecessary for the vast majority of children, but can actually cause major developmental harm, and at worst a shortened lifespan.' House's sentiments echo those of Professor Greg Broooks who, in 2009, advised that formal schooling should be started two years later than the current starting age of 5. However, it is House's proposition that children from deprived and disadvantaged backgrounds should continue to enter education at a younger age because they would 'benefit from such early interventions', that is likely to cause the most controversy. Assuming that children from deprived backgrounds are not benefiting from informal education is a dangerous assumption to make and House's comments risk widening the class divide even further.
And it seems it's not just the children who are the topic of concern. The Guardian reports how Christine Gilbert, former head of Ofsted, believes we are facing a teaching time bomb with growing 'widespread disillusionment in schools despite the level of teacher professionalism being "better than ever" '. Her comments come after teaching union, the NASUWT, reveals that almost half of its 230,000 members have considered resigning in the last year alone amid ' a collective crisis of confidence in the profession'. Impossible targets, poor working conditions, dilapidated buildings and weakening disciplinary abilities have left over one third of their members feeling as if they are not respected as professionals.
There is undoubtedly a huge problem facing our education system. Whereas there may be conflicting views as to how to remodel the system, it is essential that the wellbeing of both teachers and pupils remain the focus of any restructure. Creating a culture of wellbeing and respect is essential to ensuring that both teachers and students grow and meet their potential in education and life.