Leading headmistress: 'Education has lost its way'

The UK's education system has "lost its way", a leading headmistress said today.

Schools are mired in a tick box culture and forced to "jump through hoops" to meet exam targets, as politicians focus more on results and inspections than teaching and learning, according to Gillian Low, president of the Girls' Schools Association (GSA).



And she warned that teenagers were under intense pressure - from the education system, where the drop of just one grade at GCSE could cost them a place at a top university, and from today's celebrity culture and the demand to look good.



Addressing the GSA's annual conference in Manchester today, Mrs Low heaped blame on previous Governments for burdening schools with new initiatives.



She said: "Am I unusual in thinking that Education UK has lost its way over recent years? This is not the fault of schools, but of past Government initiatives."



Mrs Low, who is also headmistress of The Lady Eleanor Holles School in Hampton, Middlesex, said she hoped the new Government was seeking to address the problem, but added there was "much work to be done."



"There seems to me to have been a national shift over recent years to a perceived emphasis on examinations rather than education; on structures rather than students; inspection rather than inspiration; on specifications rather than scholarship; compliance rather than common sense; and testing rather than teaching," she said.



"The result at a national level has been a distortion of purpose and outcomes. We have seen, for example, the negative effects of the pressure of league tables, of the hoop-jumping assessment objectives of examinations, and of the tedious, time-consuming, tick-box regulatory regime, which shifts and complicates constantly.



"It is not that inspection and testing and so on should not have their due place: it is a question of proportion. At a time of such economic pressure and competition for university places and jobs, that balance can come under even greater strain and scrutiny."



Mrs Low said she was concerned that young people were under "unprecedented pressure", citing UNICEF research from 2007 which rated the wellbeing of the UK's children and teenagers the lowest of 21 rich nations.



Youngsters are facing twin pressures from the education system and society in general, she said.



"We must not underestimate the increasing pressure posed by the education system itself: consider, for example, the endless testing, and the introduction of the A* at A levels, and the consequently higher hurdles for some top universities, together with the devaluing of the A.



"And consider too the A* at GCSE - just one mistake on a bad day, at just 16, that brings an A* grade down to an A and it's no go at certain universities for you! And what about the increasingly intense competition for university places and the huge debts our future undergraduates are likely to incur?



"And then, from society more generally, they face the celebrity culture, the pressure to look good, the insecurity of some families, the dangers of the internet, the threat of global terrorism, economic uncertainty, the challenge of finding work, the financial inability to leave home and set up independently, concerns about the environment, global competition."



Everything today's teenagers do is geared towards their future study and career, Mrs Low said, with young people no longer able simply to take gap years before university to broaden their horizons.



She rejected calls by Mary Curnock Cook, chief executive of the university admissions service Ucas to rename the gap year to the "bridging year".



Ms Curnock Cook previously said that students should use the year to "enhance their attractiveness" to universities.



But Mrs Low said: "In the current climate of competition for university places, I can of course understand the rationale for her advice, but must we really forget in entirety travelling to, say, Asia or South America, contributing to local communities in worthwhile ways, the buzz of adventure and discovery, making great friends and experiencing life around the world?



"Can they not be carefree, be young, for even a short time, and in that time, develop the confidence and resilience they will so badly need, broaden their interests, grow up and experience life independent of their parents?"



She added: "We must be careful not to squash the natural idealism, the sense of adventure and the innate passion of young people into utilitarian boxes, where everything must be 'strategic', 'focused' and 'targeted', however difficult the times. Society must remember just how precious, and vulnerable, youth is, and protect it."

News
people

Actress sees off speculation about her appearance in an amazing way

Arts and Entertainment
Serge Pizzorno of Kasabian and Noel Fielding backstage at the Teenage Cancer Trust concerts
musicKasabian and Noel Fielding attack 'boring' musicians
Arts and Entertainment
Julianne Moore and Ellen Page are starring together in civil rights drama Freeheld
film
Voices
'Irritatingly Disneyfied': fashion vlogger Zoella
voicesVicky Chandler: Zoella shows us that feminism can come in all forms
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Sport
nflAtlanta Falcons can't count and don't know what the UK looks like
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
High notes, flat performance: Jake Bugg
music

Review: Despite an uphill climb to see Jake Bugg in action, his performance is notably flat

News
The Putin automaton will go on sale next month in Germany
videoMusical Putin toy showing him annexing Crimea could sell for millions
News
news

Powerful images of strays taken moments before being put down

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Education

Learning Support Assistants-Nantwich area

£8 - £9 per hour: Randstad Education Chester: We are currently recruiting for ...

Primary Teachers-Northwich area

£85 - £110 per day: Randstad Education Chester: Primary Teachers- Northwich Ar...

Primary Teachers-Northwich area

£85 - £110 per day: Randstad Education Chester: Primary Teachers- Northwich Ar...

Year 2 Teacher

£100 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: An extract from the latest...

Day In a Page

Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

'You need me, I don’t need you'

Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

How to Get Away with Murder

Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
A cup of tea is every worker's right

Hard to swallow

Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
Which animals are nearly extinct?

Which animals are nearly extinct?

Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
12 best children's shoes

Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
Anderlecht vs Arsenal: Gunners' ray of light Aaron Ramsey shines again

Arsenal’s ray of light ready to shine again

Aaron Ramsey’s injury record has prompted a club investigation. For now, the midfielder is just happy to be fit to face Anderlecht in the Champions League
Comment: David Moyes' show of sensitivity thrown back in his face by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

Moyes’ show of sensitivity thrown back in his face... by Ferguson

Manchester United legend tramples on successor who resisted criticising his inheritance
Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2015

UK city beats Vienna, Paris and New York to be ranked seventh in world’s best tourist destinations - but it's not London