Youngsters are being taught in an “unforgiving system” where there are “no real second chances”, the president of the Girls’ Schools Association (GSA) has warned.
Alice Phillips said that her younger self would have been “written off at the age of 16” by today’s education system.
She admitted that her own exam results at 16 and 18 “were not the stellar line-up we are accustomed to require today of our aspiring Oxbridge or Russell group candidates”.
She was given another chance, however, by the old-style, seventh-term Oxbridge entrance exam and was awarded a place at Cambridge. By the time she left university, she had gained self-knowledge and was ready to “step boldly into the world and contribute”.
Ms Phillips, who is head of St Catherine’s School in Surrey, also expressed concern about the decoupling of the AS from the A level.
She fears that it will “erode the breadth of subjects young people study” and force universities to rely on GCSE results as the best indicators of students’ degree potential. She added: “I know that there are many who favour the linear A level, but I am not one of them and I believe it’s not too late to review the reforms and maintain an element of midway assessment.”
Ms Phillips, who was speaking at the annual conference of the GSA, which represents the heads of girls’ independent schools, called on politicians and quangos to bow out of education reform.
“Let’s remove the costly changes of direction and ‘quick fix’ initiatives that are driven by our adversarial political system,” she said.
“Children and their future – our country’s future – should not be at the mercy of those for whom education is a means to secure votes and power.”
Ms Phillips said that criticism by politicians and the media, pay differentials between teaching and other graduate jobs, and the constant drive for perfection in education is having a worrying impact on teacher recruitment.
She would like the government to consider waiving university debt for graduate teachers who achieve “five successful years in the classroom” and said teachers themselves should tell students “why teaching is a great career”.
CAPTION: Written off? President of the Girls’ Schools Association Alice Phillips