"We are still left wondering exactly how these changes are going to be made."
In 2019, a group of students from London colleges wrote a powerful open letter to Ofsted about the impact of school experiences on mental health and personal development. You can read Ofsted’s reply to the students here.
Julia Stefany is one of the school students who led the group, and wrote down her thoughts on what they heard back. Below, she explains why she had mixed feelings over the response, and was “left wondering” how exactly Ofsted plans to to improve education for young people.
“Having been one of the students to write the letter to Ofsted back in 2019, I was very happy when we received a response from them and we were all very grateful for the time they took to read about the issues we identified within the education system and about all of our ideas.
It was great to read within the response how much of what we spoke about is supported by research carried out by Ofsted themselves and it’s amazing to hear they are aware of the issues and trying to implement a new framework to improve the system.
A quote taken directly from their response said that “the new framework will encourage schools to teach a broad, rich and well-sequenced curriculum that ensures students will receive high quality education to put them on a path to future success.” As a student I think that is great – because after all, that’s the reason we go to school and study – but I must question how is that different from the current system. Are schools not already teaching a broad and well rounded curriculum?
Although it truly is great that our education system wants to help young people achieve success, we must keep in mind that success is subjective.
Being successful can mean very different things for different people. While one person could aim to be a successful business person, another could aim to have a stable career, a stable state of mind and good mental health.
Another topic we had brought attention to in our letter is how a few grades does not define a person. In response to that, Ofsted mentioned that they are introducing two new methods to judge students: ‘personal development’ and ‘behaviour and attitude’. As important as those sound, I feel like there is a lack of clarity to this: saying we are going to be judged by our personal development and behaviour and attitude does not explain what this involves – what is personal development, and how can it be measured?
I can speak from experience when I say having amazing grades and perfect behaviour at one point does not mean it will always be like that. Life is not a straight line and young people are not robots, circumstances can change and affect who we are as a person. Just because someone seems to be doing well in school and is a “pleasure to teach” in class doesn’t mean they are not struggling within themselves.
Mental health problems are not always visible, and if nothing is done to bring attention to this fact, things can become worse until the individual reaches a breaking point, where no journey of personal development or quality of education will be able to help them.
The response we received from Ofsted is certainly a step in the right direction. However, for me it feels very generic and focuses more on making the education system seem better in terms of delivering extra knowledge, while straying from the main point of our letter: how mental health can be linked to the education system, and how all of the “methods” created to judge students do not support mental health in any way.
The key point here is not to find new ways to assess individuals. It’s to make sure that – alongside the mainstream education purposes we already receive – students feel safe and comfortable, know that their feelings and thoughts are valid, and understand where to go when they need extra help, no matter what the circumstances.”
We are currently working with UCL Institute of Education to further develop Julia and her peers’ research. Watch this space as we share more about our findings in the coming weeks.