Education needs to be less Mr Chips and more James Dyson, says senior MP

·4 min read

Schools need to focus on skills needed for the future and say “Goodbye Mr Chips, hello James Dyson”, according to a senior MP.

The news comes as a year-long study set up by The Times newspaper found that the economy could see a £125 billion boost per year if the education system were reformed and new recruits were more prepared for employment.

Robert Halfon MP, chairman of the Commons’ education select committee, told the BBC Today programme that transforming the education system “should be the number one priority for the Government”.

Robert Halfon
Mr Halfon, chairman of the Education Select Committee, said that reforming education must be the Government’s top priority.

“If levelling up isn’t about education, what is levelling up for?” he said.

He added that the three “major challenges” faced by the system were recovery from the pandemic and school lockdowns, “addressing social injustice and social mobility”, and combatting the country’s “skills deficit”.

“We do have an old-fashioned education system – we should say ‘Goodbye, Mr Chips, Hello, James Dyson,’ and make sure that our curriculum better prepares pupils for the world of work,” he said.

Peter O’Toole Mr Chips
Peter O’Toole dressed for the role of Mr Chipping (Chips) is cheered by boys at Sherborne School, Dorset (Archive/PA)

Goodbye Mr Chips is a 1930s film about a schoolmaster, while entrepreneur Sir James Dyson contributed to the Times’ commission.

Mr Dyson told the Commission that education reforms carried out by former education secretary Michael Gove, had “put (design and technology) onto the same level as cookery, which is a wonderful thing …. but it doesn’t create exports, technology or manufacturing businesses.”

The number of pupils taking design technology GCSEs has fallen by over a quarter since 2018.

There have been growing calls for a reform of the exams system. In November last year, a poll by the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference, a body of elite UK private schools, surveyed 789 school leaders, teachers, parents, students, university staff and other education workers.

The poll suggested that 54% believe a consultation on GCSE reform should be launched “as soon as possible”.

James Dyson (David Parry/PA)
James Dyson (David Parry/PA)

Mr Halfon added that education needed to have a “vocational and technical element” throughout, and that there should not be a system whereby “some groups of students” do vocational education while others studied an academic route.

A survey of 150 human resources directors in large companies for The Times’ Education Commission found that nearly three-quarters of businesses asked applicants to sit additional aptitude or ability tests, while nearly a third regularly needed to give new employees additional lessons.

The survey by PricewaterhouseCoopers also found that 70% of companies felt that the education system focused too much on grades, with over half of those surveyed stating that schools should focus more on personal skills such as timekeeping, presentational skills or the ability to work as part of a team.

Mr Halfon said that a study by Oxera showed that there would be a long-term £45 billion boost to the economy if social mobility in the UK reached the average for Western Europe.

Rates of DT have declined
The proportion of pupils taking design and technology lessons in school has declined dramatically (Richard Walker/PA)

Questioned about whether the Government had been “bad” for creative subjects, Mr Halfon said the Government had supported “literacy and numeracy and standards”, but that the curriculum needed to look at other skills needed by employers, such as “oracy” and financial education.

He added that pupils should sit the International Baccalaureate rather than A levels so that they sat as broad a range of subjects as possible.

Mr Halfon said that the allegations of parties held in Government during national lockdowns were “pretty awful, and we all feel let down and disappointed”.

“We’ve just been talking about education, and what I would say is…I would like to see the three Rs from the Prime Minister – how he’s going to respond to the anguish and upset from the public, how he’s going to take responsibility himself and his own staff and how he’s going to reset the Government, and I’ll wait for the parliamentary statement,” he said.

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