Once, in the days when Labour enjoyed a massive majority in Parliament, Tony Blair spoke of his desire for “education, education, education”. Since that speech, the UK has seen a drastic change in the purpose of its adult-forming institutions. There has been a rise in examinations sat by pupils and more people at university than ever before.
"Here at Oundle it appears to many that we are educated for the sole purpose of GCSEs at the end of the Fifth Form, and A levels at the end of the Upper Sixth. But is this really the case, and is education just about exams in 21st Century Britain? Or should our government scrutinise the matter a little more closely? Perhaps it should take a look at Oundle."
If you judge a book by its front cover, Oundle’s consistently excellent examination results will definitely shape your impression of the School. This performance ticks the all important ‘exams’ box that quickly became Blairite and Cameronite education policy. But where Oundle goes further – unlike the majority of independent and state schools – is in its widening of the curriculum. Teachers are able, to a certain extent, to take their preferred route in lessons, introducing pupils to their own individual specialisms, and inspiring them to pursue more unconventional topics. This diversity helps formulate the young, intellectual mind. Pupils also partake in many different co-curricular activities such as CA, the CCF, and The Oundelian. This ensures that they remain in touch with something beyond the somewhat repetitive, hoop-jumping education system.
Whilst it is important not to take these opportunities for granted, since many others do not have access to them, it is absolutely vital to understand the differences in the sort of education provided by Oundle, and that provided – or rather not provided – according to Michael Gove’s stamped-and-approved GCSE system. Undoubtedly many teachers would comment that the present system restricts them enough, in terms of mark schemes and lesson planning; while others believe that it meets the needs of a growing population, and hence fulfils its purpose. I, for one, do not dispute either argument. But I will continue to stress that this is where Oundle differs from the union as a whole: it takes possession of the glorious triad of exams, co-curricular activities and boarding, and thus formulates an all-round education.
So, what can the government do to address this lack of a proper all-round education, bearing in mind the example offered by our School? It is naturally difficult to contend with the struggles of COVID raging far and wide, but after witnessing the disasters of online education in many schools, as well as the fiasco around exams, surely, we can glean some new wisdom from such experiences.
We need a boost to investment; we need clearer direction from the top. This will allow more focus and more freedom, not to mention more time, for teachers to address certain aspects of their pupils’ courses. Undoubtedly it is not an easy task for any administration to overhaul the last twenty years of education policy, and I am not trying to dictate how our politicians should do it – I leave that to Parliament – but I am arguing that there are important messages that could be learnt from fine institutions such as Oundle. Some think it’s too expensive; some, that it is a waste of time. But a proper, fit-for purpose education system is the opium of a prosperous society.
That’s why Oundle does it better. And it is why a great many Oundelians go on to achieve a great many things.