Looking at the headlines, it seems so.
For a start, we have pupils in a complete mess in reaction to exam stress: https://www.independent.co.uk/news/education/education-news/school-pupil-mental-health-exams-school-pressure-national-education-union-neu-a8297366.html
Then we have a crisis in teacher retention:
I saw somewhere a suggestion that paying teachers more would be a good solution. Whilst no one turns down a pay rise, I absolutely do not think that’s a the problem – if the conditions and workload are such as to make people incredibly miserable, they don’t suddenly become acceptable or sustainable on a long-term basis by paying more.
The problems are not limited to schools, of course. There is a major concern at universities about a “students as consumers” culture, and a managerialist rather than academic approach.
What on earth are we doing?
I don’t buy the “modern pressures are unique” thing for kids. GCSE and A-level exams aren’t fundamentally any more stressful than their equivalents when I was at school – we had to achieve certain grades back then too. The exams themselves are not the issue. I do think there seems to be a much greater expectation that things will always be perfect and will never go wrong from the kids themselves and their parents, and the trouble is, if some are prone to it, it can infect others too.
I don’t think the myth that “you can be whatever you want to be” is helpful either (though it is promulgated with the best possible intentions) – that sort of approach tells me that if I just try hard enough, or I purchase the appropriate expensive education or training, then I too can be an outstanding athlete, a business success, a highflying scientist, a successful doctor…. Actually no. Sometimes you won’t make the grade, and thinking you always can is harmful. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try, or should be defeatist, of course, but being told “it’s about wanting it enough” or “just put the work in” is a recipe for people blaming themselves when it doesn’t happen, rather than adjusting their plans as necessary and getting on with life.
Then we have the problematic mindset throughout education that prioritises that which can be readily measured above all, neglecting what may be more valuable. We have league tables and OFSTED for schools, more league tables, REF and TEF for universities. I am not trying to suggest we should do away with any such accountability, but these things are distorting the system horrendously, and no-one ever seems to indicate the limits of reliability of any of the data, or discusses what it doesn’t measure. We desperately need to give some trust to the professionalism of staff in schools and universities, not force them to be forever chasing the ratings. This will surely not only improve staff’s mental wellbeing, reduce stress levels and improve retention , but also provide actual better outcomes, undistorted by metrics and league tables.
The “education as a means to an end” approach also has a lot to answer for. If you insist on seeing it as worth only what you gain from it financially, then it’s pretty inevitable that you end up in the mentality of feeling you are “buying” your degree (or GCSE/ A-level) and going with the “economically rational” approach of wanting the best outcome for the minimum effort, rather than embracing learning as a wonderful thing in itself.
I am also a firm believer that the best person to manage an organisation is someone who understands it – so I’d like them to have experience working at other levels in that or a similar organisation in the sector. Of course the best teachers aren’t always the best headteachers. But I’d never appoint a head who’d never taught (and I like it when heads keep up with a little teaching). I think this is fairly widely agreed at school level, so I find it odd that it is seen as relatively normal for universities to appoint people to the top jobs without a background in the sector.