Private schools have the most freedom to respond to the educational crisis. Let them.
Recently Latymer and Bedales schools in England, both elite private schools, have taken the decision to ditch the GCSE. Some have seen this as an attempt by the private sector to insulate itself from rising GCSE grades in the state sector which threaten to make them look comparatively less attractive. There is a risk that if they were to create their own ‘private’ equivalent of the GCSE this would of course entrench class privilege. This should be allowed to happen.
That being said, something caught my eye. The announcement from Latymer came with the claim that by ditching all but Maths and English GCSEs they would “regain a quarter of [their] teaching time”. I have no idea about the calculation they have used here, presumably, it is based on English and Math, along with statutory subjects, like PE, being retained – and then seeing what is left. Nor is it clear if this means that the freed-up 25% would then be reallocated to their proposed alternative qualifications for the likes of the Humanities, Sciences, and Arts – however… regardless, that is quite a staggering claim.
I continue to insist the biggest problem with teaching is the burden placed on teachers – we simply cannot teach well when we are so busy, it is impossible. If they really can free up 25% of the timetable by moving away from GCSEs (each of which comes with a teacher contact time minimum requirement)… then why aren’t we all doing it? More time for students to learn, and more time for teachers to plan, mark and deliver excellent lessons. And less attrition to student time - decreasing rates of stress and mental health. It's a win, win, win.
Learning a few things well would be much better than learning a lot of things badly. Right? Especially if the skill you can teach them well is the art of being independent learners. Because if you crack that, nothing else matters – they’ll do the rest for you over their lifetimes. In today’s AI-dominated and creatively destructive industries – this is more vital than ever.
We’re doing it all wrong. But only the private sector has the leeway to actually try something different.