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As I was paying £1.20 for a sad, solitary chocolate biscuit this morning, I began wondering about how we choose to value things in society, and how all too often this valuation takes a monetary form.

There is an interesting programme going on at the NEF at the moment called ‘Valuing what Matters’. Their argument is simple: when governments set targets for themselves, they tend to measure what is easy to measure, like savings. The stuff that gets measured tends to become the stuff that matters when evaluating performance and so this cycle repeats itself.

Well, what happens when we are measuring the wrong thing? This is the argument the NEF is considering, and it applies to education too.

As students begin school again this September one thing remains constant: results matter. They are the measure universities and employers use to determine who gets in and who doesn’t. This doesn’t mean that they are only thing that matters.

As every CBI report I have ever read informs me, the UK’s top employers are worried: they need a demanding set of attributes and qualities from their graduate workers which academic qualifications cannot quantify. Since they are not being measured for, apparently whether or not an applicant has them can be up to chance.

From GCSEs to IGCSEs, the International Baccalaureate, the ‘English Baccalaureate’, BTECs, NVQs, the Cambridge Pre-U, to the new A* A Level grade and talk of scrapping AS Levels (having just introduced them) altogether, our crowded qualifications landscape is endemic of an inability to agree on what counts in education. Demos may have asked why educational assessment was ‘failing’ in 2003, but it appears the question remains just as pertinent now in 2010.

Business (and, more importantly, society) needs people who can be leaders and communicators; critical, independent thinkers, who are able to adapt and be resilient in the face of change and who are capable of applying knowledge rather than just acquiring it. These are the people who are most likely to do well at work and these are also the people who, studies tell us, are most likely to thrive in life too.

But how then do we create a school system that values and supports the development of the other qualities and capabilities people are going to need beyond school, such as an ability to stick to goals, show resilience and regulate behaviour? Or should this not be the preserve of school at all, and what then for those children who parents are unable or ill-equipped to pass these demanding qualities on to their children? Should the acquisition of such values be left to chance?

Opening Minds has been developed by the RSA partly in response to this question, and the RSA Academy’s 2010 exam results attest for how a skills based curriculum can begin to produce both well-rounded and academically sound candidates.

At Whole Education, we are beginning to ask these questions too. We don’t have all the answers are yet, but we are looking.


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