Ending the Big Squeeze on Skills: How to Futureproof Education in England

Ending the Big Squeeze on Skills: How to Futureproof Education in England  is a new report which says that whilst pupils still need a good grounding in knowledge, to flourish in increasingly digital workplaces, 'they also need more space to develop attributes such as critical thinking, creativity, communication and collaborative problem-solving (which experts dub the “4Cs”)

'Yes, the government can point to some positive outcomes on its watch, at least when measured in more conventional terms. For example, the UK has remained relatively well placed in the OECD’s Programme for International Student Attainment (PISA) rankings of educational achievement. But PISA tests were always prone to being too narrow and, given the changing nature of employers’ skills needs, they are on their own increasingly unsuited to educational realities. Moreover, our apparently good performance masks huge domestic inequalities, as well as the fact that we have been treading water while our competitors have surged ahead in key areas....

'Schools have significantly trimmed what they teach and the subjects pupils are taking are drawn increasingly from a small range of traditional academic subjects dubbed the “English Baccalaureate”, or the “EBacc”. By crowding out non-EBacc subjects, the government’s reforms damage learning and stifle efforts to improve social mobility....

'This is not about a return to the misguided ideologies of the 1970s. Instead, at the core of a reformed system should be a revised curriculum, more sophisticated modes of assessment and a new, rigorous accountability framework that is better attuned to the things that matter most. By pairing this with a comprehensive edtech strategy, we can personalise learning so that pupils grasp the basics much more quickly. This combination of reforms would free up time and introduce the right incentives for a focus on developing more complex skills. That would be a system fit for purpose in an age of profound transformation.'

The report has several recommendations:

Pupil Assessment and School Performance

  • Phase One: Scrap the EBacc and retain Progress 8 as a performance measure but make it more flexible to accommodate other valuable, non-EBacc GCSEs.
  • Phase Two: Introduce elements of the “4Cs” (collaboration, communication, critical thinking and creativity) as an accountability measure for schools, based on current and emerging OECD tests. In time, further develop this measure by incorporating a value-added component.
  • Phase Three: Replace the current system of assessment, including GCSEs and A-Levels, with a new qualification at 18 that would draw on and refine the principles that underpin the International Baccalaureate.

The report gives recommendations for Curriculum and also for School Inspection.


Ending the Big Squeeze on Skills: How to Futureproof Education in England  is published by the Tony Blair Institute of Global Change