What is a failure? Please RT

or why Katharine Birbalsingh is wrong.

Ok, ok this could turn out to be an incredibly long blog, but in particular I am looking at her recent blog “A G grade is not a pass. This is a harmful, ludicrous myth”, which can be found here.


The main thrust, from our currently out of education, education expert is seems to be said in this quote

 “Is QCA going to get these kids into college. Is QCA going to get them a job?  No! But no matter, the people shouting the lie feel better about themselves for doing it.”

Well they could get themselves into an FE college or sixthform to undertake a Level 2 qualification that leads to a level 3 and then onto vocational degrees or into work.  They could have the skills and attributes to get themselves onto an apprenticeship.  So, no the QCA won’t ‘get them’ into Oxbridge, but it will present them with qualifications that will allow them to progress.

I don’t shout these opinions to lie, although unsure as to whom I would be shouting the lie at.  I feel that young people should have pathways in which they can achieve success and enjoy.  Yes the brightest should be pushed towards the higher grades and then onto the ‘best’ universities.  But, all students should be able to access a curriculum that is suited to their aspirations, skills and preferred assessment style.

So the obvious question is to work out what a fail is?  In Katherine’s tiny world then a G is a fail.  A student that receives a mixture of D, E, F & G grades is not going to be progressing to a sixthform to study A’ levels and then on to a Russell group university.  However, the skills that this type of student possesses might not be suited to academic study, so in one small facet of their persona, Katherine and others is happy to label them a failure.

My solution is to stop the Secondary Education system being designed to produce graduates.  To reshape the curriculum with universities, employers and educational experts fully engaged.  It seems extremely simple to me to design a curriculum where all stakeholders can assess the academic, vocational or life skills of the individual taking part and then be able to differentiate.  A good start would be for us to look at the IB Middle Years Programme and then have layers of complexity depending on the aspirations of the students.  For example, those wishing to go onto university, having to complete more extended projects, to show the aptitude needed for academic study.

The reason why this thinking is wrong is the same reason why the 11+ is wrong.  Labeling young people as failures has a profound effect on their lives.  Katherine wants the education system to deem us successes or failures based on a maximum of four years of study (KS4 & KS5), carefully forgetting that most of us will work for at least forty years after finishing education.  I was not a gifted academic student but in later life have excelled in vocational courses, such as the NPQH, where I first met Katherine.  I have excelled in my role as a senior manager in schools because I truly believe the talents, no matter what they are, in all students.  My ethos is underpinned by the belief that everyone should achieve their best, no matter what that best is.  If a student gives everything to their studies and that results in 5 D grades and a distinction in a BTEC then that should be celebrated.  Equally a hard working students who gains straight A*s and has the aspiration to go to Oxford or Cambridge.  Especially as I have met many lazy, but bright, students who walk away with A*s, As and Bs who have very little to celebrate apart from the success in a set of skills, in a very narrow facet of life as a whole.


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