Blinks: High quality reviews and training
Blinks: High quality reviews and training
Blinks: High quality reviews and training
High quality reviews and training
High quality reviews and training

Roy Blatchford's Column

Roy Blatchford
Contact: royb88@gmail.com

Bound in shallows and in miseries: reform of the route to higher education is now long overdue

This is an edited reprint of an article published with this title on 1st October 1993 in 'Education'.

Twenty-seven years on, I welcome SoS Gavin Williamson's current resolve to reform entry into Higher Education.


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The August roller coaster of students' emotions, not to mention those of their families and teachers, upon receipt of GCSE and A level results, is an annual reminder that the present systems are faltering.

Take first the structure of the 14 - 19 curriculum and its schemes of assessment, well overdue for revision. Second, methods of entry to and the very organisation of higher education are increasingly out of step with the National Education and Training Targets.

It is Shakespeare's Brutus who reminds us:
There is a tide in the affairs of men,
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
Is bound in shallows and miseries.

Two overlapping reform tides command our present attention. Wise, collaborative initiative is needed from central government and the educational establishment. This will require that the former shifts from its preoccupation with short-term solutions, while the latter must prove willing to accept that inertia should not prevail.

In common with most headteachers up and down the country I spent part of August fielding matters arising from GCSE and A results. First came the mid-month cries of anguish and delight from 18 year olds. As widely reported, this year's cohort divided neatly out into C P Snow's two cultures. Maths and science candidates have moved effortlessly into their first-choice universities, even those who slipped a point or two.

In striking - and galling - contrast Arts students, even those with A and B grades, have struggled to secure their chosen place of study where the upper grades happen to have come out in the wrong order.

How do you explain to frantic parents that despite securing the overall UCCA points total required their son is now not able to go to the city to which he has been preparing to move since the university made its offer eight months ago? How do you console a 'rejected' geography student who knows she has worked harder than her physics counterpart only to see the friend accepted with lower grades?

Students funding themselves through university, including tuition fees, will come sooner rather than later to the British system. The nation cannot afford otherwise and the sooner we are honest with ourselves the better for our current generation of secondary-aged children.

Faced with such costs parents and students will willingly and properly opt for two-year degrees, and there is no reason why compression of time should compromise quality. Moving to a January start would remove the August silly season of unnecessary disappointments.

Sixth form students could then be applying in the early autumn on the basis of substantive grades and more meaningful school references. Might they also be expected to use the 'gap' term for some form of locally based community service?

If we are not to be bound in shallows and miseries well into the early decades of the 21st century, there has now to be creative, unfettered dialogue between the schools and university sectors.

Our Secretary of State for Education (John Patten) is well placed to begin the process this autumn. In doing so he may enhance the continuing education life chances of future generations.

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Bound in shallows and in miseries: reform of the route to higher education is now long overdue (November 2020)


Roy Blatchford's recent books are 'The Three Minute Leader' and 'The Forgotten Third', published by John Catt Education.

Roy Blatchford
Contact: royb88@gmail.com


Darwinism for modern times: regulators must adapt too
When our environment changes we must adapt to survive. Across private, public and not-for-profit sectors, boards and executives are busy rethinking.
  • What do we keep?
  • What do we ditch?
  • What do we refresh?
Darwinism for modern times: regulators must adapt too (November 2020)

The habit of collaboration
David Laws in government put down a marker from a Ministerial perspective about the absence in practice of a developed school system.
Secondary headteachers in East Sussex have been practising the school-led system for a while now. Through trial, error, resilience - and a deep commitment to the values of working together - they have established a pioneering and proven model which others might wish to learn from. The habit of collaboration is real.
The habit of collaboration (October 2020)

There is much promise in classrooms
It's the stuff of popular magazines. Interview a famous person about their childhood influences, their treasured moments and possessions, their faith, their biggest extravagance, who and what they find most irritating.
There is much promise in classrooms (September 2020)

The Pygmalion effect
In a recorded end-of-term message to her colleagues one headteacher spoke powerfully: 'Let not Covid-19 define the past academic year. So much else has been achieved in our school'.
The Pygmalion effect (August 2020)

Resetting the dial: focus on the gains
A quote from Lenin which was circulating in the early weeks of the lockdown - 'There are decades where nothing happens, and weeks where decades happen' - seems as apposite now as it was in late March.
Resetting the dial: focus on the gains (July 2020)

School's in - but not as we know it
In Ray Bradbury's sci-fi story A Sound of Thunder, set in 2055, the character Eckels travels back in time. He is instructed firmly by the trip organisers Time Safari Inc. to stay on the levitated path and touch nothing. Inadvertently he steps off the path and crushes a butterfly. Returning to the present, the world has changed.
School's in - but not as we know it (June 2020)

Will dinner duty ever be the same again?
As an impecunious supply teacher in a 1970s London comprehensive I learned from my first Head of English that if I accompanied him on lunch duty, I could get a free meal. Previously in publishing, I had been told that there was no such thing as a free lunch.
I never looked back.
Will dinner duty ever be the same again? (May 2020)

Philosophy, politics and economics (PPE)
The UK's political leaders who have nervously addressed the nation from the Downing Street podium over the past weeks took degrees as follows: Johnson (classics), Raab (law), Patel (economics), Sharma (physics), Hancock (PPE - sic), Jenrick (history). Rishi Sunak (PPE) has been singularly confident.
Philosophy, politics and economics (PPE) (19 April 2020)

Before Coronavirus (BC).... After Coronavirus (AC)
There was a time Before Coronavirus (BC), though it already seems months ago. Lenin got it right when he said: 'There are decades where nothing happens, and weeks where decades happen'.
Before Coronavirus (BC).... After Coronavirus (AC) (April 2020)

The Three Minute Leader: ROOM 101
I taught in a central London comprehensive in the 1980s at the height of the IRA's bombing campaigns. The distinguished headteacher told me years later after she had retired that during those years she received by phone daily bomb threats.
The Three Minute Leader: ROOM 101 (March 2020)

Artificial Intelligence (AI) beckons
The word 'robot' comes from a Czech word robota meaning 'forced labour'. It was first used to denote a fictional humanoid in a 1920 play. By the 1940s Isaac Asimov started popularizing robots and intelligent machines in his great science fiction short stories.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) beckons (February 2020)

A New Year's resolution for leaders: prevailing scepticism
A new, predictably unpredictable decade begins. The German poet Goethe wryly observed that everything has been thought of before - the challenge is to think of it again.
A New Year's resolution for leaders: prevailing scepticism (January 2020)

PISA in purdah
With politicians on doorsteps and civil servants in purdah, this month's publication of PISA results has not been accompanied by the usual idle chatter around rising and falling standards.
OECD's PISA tests have been running since 2000. They measure the ability of 15 year-olds to apply their skills and knowledge to real life problem-solving in reading, maths and science.
PISA in purdah (December 2019)

It's not what you say, it's the way that you say it
According to new research from Yale University, when we hear someone speak we form near-instantaneous conclusions about their social class. It takes just seven random words they claim.
The Professional Speechwriters' Association suggests that content only accounts for 11 per cent of our impact when we talk. Passion, expertise, voice and presence are all twice as important in making a first impression.
It's not what you say, it's the way that you say it (November 2019)

Why independent schools enjoy being independent
The Labour Conference votes to abolish independent schools. Social media have come up with witty suggestions about what to do with the great estates of Stowe, Eton, Wellington and Winchester once they are requisitioned.
Anyone who has attended the annual Festival of Education at Wellington College will know what I mean.
So as minds turn to thinking the unthinkable, let's pause to reflect on why the independent sector rightly values its independence.
Why independent schools enjoy being independent (October 2019)

The 'Forgotten Third' deserve the dignity of a new type of qualification
It is a remarkable statistic in the home of the English language, and in one of the world's top economies, that one third of 16 year-olds, after 12 years of compulsory schooling, fail to achieve what the Department for Education describes as a 'standard pass' (grade 4) in GCSE English and maths.
This was the starting point for the independent Commission on 'The Forgotten Third' which was established by the Association of School and College Leaders...
The 'Forgotten Third' deserve the dignity of a new type of qualification (September 2019)
The Forgotten Third: Final report of the Commission of Inquiry

Reading for the summer recess
Radical Candour Kim Scott, Machines Like Me Ian McEwan, Sandettie Light Vessel Automatic Simon Armitage, Average Is Over Tyler Cowen, India Connected Ravi Agrawal and Why We Dream Alice Robb.
Reading for the summer recess (August 2019)

End of academic year reflection (July 2019)
This past year I have visited nearly 50 schools in the UK and overseas. Sometimes it has been as a reviewer (Blink), sometimes as a leadership coach, sometimes to work with students and teachers, sometimes to listen to headteachers' views on a range of educational matters.
End of academic year reflection (July 2019)

Eight Leadership Maxims
With acknowledgements to the headteachers and principals across the UK and overseas I have worked with this academic year.
Eight Leadership Maxims (June 2019)

It's the curriculum, stupid!
Bill Clinton's successful 1992 presidential campaign slogan memorably read 'It's the economy, stupid'. His lead strategist James Carville hung a sign with these words in the Little Rock campaign headquarters: what was intended for an internal audience rapidly became the election signature tune.
In the contemporary schools landscape, Her Majesty's Chief Inspector has hung up the sign: 'It's the curriculum, stupid'.
It's the curriculum, stupid! (May 2019)

Postcard from Shanghai
Away from its gridlocked, elevated highways the largest city in the world works. Shanghai: a modern, socialist, international metropolis.
Contrast frenetic New York, chaotic Mumbai, the bedlam of Cairo - Shanghai hums with purpose. Twenty-six million souls occupy countless high-rise towers cheek by jowl with the stylish housing and municipal legacies of the French, British and American Concessions. The Huang Pu river bends through the downtown like a proverbial dragon's tongue.
Postcard from Shanghai (April 2019)

The Forgotten Third
Each year in England over half a million 16-year-olds take their GCSEs. A third of these students do not achieve at least a standard pass (grade 4) in English and mathematics.
Why is it that a third of 16-year-olds, after twelve years of compulsory schooling, cannot read or write English at what the Department for Education (DfE) describes as 'standard pass' level?
Why is there not proper recognition of the progress these young people have made as they move on to further education and employment?
The Forgotten Third (March 2019)

The tarnished jewel of Higher Education, UK
I encounter many senior politicians, top civil servants in education departments, principals of schools and colleges across the globe who have spent what they describe as memorable and enjoyable years in British universities.
The tarnished jewel of Higher Education, UK (February 2019)

A Happy New Year from Ofsted
Roy Blatchford drafts HMCI's New Year Message

An important tipping point in this country has now been reached. In 2018, approaching 90% of state-funded schools were judged good or better at their most recent inspection. That should be recognised as a fair achievement for the nation.
A Happy New Year from Ofsted (January 2019)


Roy Blatchford CBE

Roy Blatchford is founder of www.blinks.education - working with schools, academy trusts, colleges and universities in the UK and internationally. He has spent the past three years implementing education system reform in the Middle East.

He recently chaired ASCL's Commission 'The Forgotten Third', and currently chairs the East Sussex Secondary Board and the children's communication charity I CAN.

Roy was Founding CEO (2006 - 2016) of the National Education Trust and of www.netacademies.net. Previously he served as one of Her Majesty's Inspectors of Schools (HMI) in England, with national responsibilities for school improvement and for the inspection of outstanding schools. He has extensive experience of writing inspection frameworks, nationally and internationally, and has reviewed over 1000 schools and colleges in Europe, USA, Middle East and India.

For 30 years Roy has been an international trainer and conference speaker on English and literacy, school improvement, leadership and curriculum development. He has been an adviser to various UK governments, including Deputy Chair of the DfE Teachers Standards Review (2011) and of the Headteachers Standards Review (2014). He is the author/editor of over 150 books.

Roy began his teaching career in London, moving to be Principal of schools in Oxfordshire and Milton Keynes. He is Visiting Fellow at Reading University, was a visiting university professor in the USA, and is co-founder of the Mumbai-based education foundation Adhyayan. He sits on the advisory boards of the Education Policy Institute and the Centre for UK Prosperity, and is a founding trustee of www.qlearningnepal.com

Roy was appointed CBE for services to education in the 2016 New Year Honours.

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