There is no easy solution to the crisis in British education

The UK is the only nation where our young people have less mastery of the basics than the adult population as a whole

Click to follow
The Independent Online

If there was one thing that everybody was agreed upon about the OECD’s skills report, it was that the results. As far as the UK is concerned - the results were disappointing, shocking, a wake-up call to the nation – choose your own description.

It seems that the lyrics of The Beatles’ song “Your Mother Should Know” should be rewritten to read “Your Grandmother Does Know - but you don’t.”

We are, the report says, the only nation where our young people have less mastery of the basics than the adult population as a whole.  in addition, the report appears to confirm the claims of grade inflation at GCSE level levelled by Education Secretary Michael Gove.  After all, how can you have a higher exam pass rate and lower skills without it?

It was obvious that the Conservative-led Coalition was going to make hay with these figures as - obviously - most 16 to 24-year-olds (the generation lacking skills in the UK) were educated under a Labour government.

That having been said, the solution is not quite as simple as that suggested by Skills Minister Matthew Hancock who said they showed young people educated under Labour were “amongst the least literate and numerate in the developed world” but, don’t worry, the Coalition was fixing it with "a more rigorous curriculum, better teaching, higher standards and tougher discipline”.

True, some of the changes to GCSEs to make them more rigorous will doubtless make them more rigorous but I doubt whether giving 4B a same day detention on a Friday evening will improve the nation’s skills base.

The trouble is many of the people who need help are now adults - 16 to 24-year-olds to be precise so we need, in the words of Brian Lightman, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, to “move from a reliance on initial education towards fostering life-long, skills-orientated learning”.

The OECD’s Andreas Schleicher, the man described by Mr Gove as the most important inhabitant on this planet as far as education goes (I exaggerate but slightly), is quite right when he says the grandparents probably scored highly in the tests because they did carry on learning. We should listen to him.