Breaking the deadlock over academic selection 2

Selection at 11 is  frowned upon  but choice would be acceptable at 14. The Times (paywall) leads with a progress report on Kenneth Baker’s plan to revive technical colleges. The potential relevance to Northern Ireland is obvious.

Up to 70 technical schools teaching practical skills could be opened before the next election, according to Lord Baker of Dorking, the former Tory education secretary who is heading the scheme.

The coalition has pledged to open technical schools, with links to employers, in at least 12 cities across the country.

Plans were under way for five to open by next autumn, and between 12 and 20 by September next year, Baker said. One, sponsored by the plant machinery company JCB, had already opened in Staffordshire.

The Baker plan could dovetail with former Labour Education Secretary Estelle Morris’s recommendation for a GCSE – type exam at 14.

Baker’s plans are linked in the story with  former Education Secretary Estelle Morris’s claim that

 thousands more pupils would stay in school past the age of 16 if they took GCSEs at 14, with those more suited to practical courses starting to study them at that point.

They would be less likely to drop out of school or college, Morris told the North of England education conference in Blackpool yesterday.

The Labour peer, who was a teacher herself, joins a growing number of educationalists calling for GCSEs at 16 to be abolished.

Together these reforms could enhance the development of vocational skills while leaving a clear field open for academic subjects like the upper reaches of STEM, languages ancient and modern, and literature , while still encouraging cross over and flexibility. They would go part of the  way to meet the vision of  Anthony Seldon (head of Wellington College public school and biographer of Blair and Brown),  as described in Malcolm Goodfellow’s essay below my earlier post.

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  • edgeoftheunion

    The destruction of technical Colleges was a disaster. Who was the Minister of Education at the time? Surely not Lord Baker?

  • edgeoftheunion
  • I only got round to reading that Times lead story in mid-afternoon. I was not greatly impressed: did it add much to the sum of human knowledge? Or was it merely a device:
    [a] to get the Times off its self-impalement on the racist aspects of child abuse?
    [b] to avoid the Big Story of how The Guardian is getting closer to nailing Coulson and all his works?
    [c] to allow Ken Baker to remind us that, like the other dinosaur Heseltine, he is still around; and hasn’t yet had his due hand-out of Smarties from the new boy?

    What goes awry with the presentation of Baker’s Big Idea is that it is no such thing. For example, that JCB Academy at Rochester, Staffs, has been in the making these last four years. For those too dim to spot the link, that makes it a “bog-standard” Blair-government-endorsed academy (though Sir Anthony Bamford, the “B” in JCB, is a rank Tory to the tune of over £3 million and counting). It opened in September last year, boasting the only plasma cutter – a machine tool commonly used in industry – to be based in a UK school.

    Now we need to recapitulate on what I thought Seldon was saying: there is a way of avoiding government-directed schooling (in which Baker was a prime offender):

    Universities would be heavily responsible for overseeing the curriculum in the academic stream, the professions in the technical stream, and the employers in the vocational stream.

    That is not what is happening at the JCB Academy, nor what Seldon would suggest. The Academy is over-subscribed (and therefore by definition selective). It may provide an excellent 14+ technical-education for its present 120 students (though so do other existing institutions, with less PR) and does nothing for the under-motivated, under-achieving exam-fodder who desperately need vocational education and training.

    By the way, who’s this “Malcolm Goodfellow” guy?

  • JAH

    Well said Malcolm.

    JCB College is just another bog standard Academy with a flashy bit of kit.

    The reality will be that any Tory underfinanced Technical Schools will quickly become the local sink schools full of the disaffected and less academic. They will be the school’s you threaten your kids with if they fail their exams.

    Of course the staff will do their best against the odds, some will even rival the weaker Academies and be held up as an example to shame the rest.

    And the middle classes have their working class free zones back again…

  • Brian Walker

    Malcolm, Sorry about the name – but not a bad Freudian typo surely- (and please don’t tell me it’s not Freud!) You are a marvel with your web of ulterior motives.

  • “Selection at 11 is frowned upon but choice would be acceptable at 14.” A not universal opinion.

  • Reader

    Malcolm Redfellow: to get the Times off its self-impalement on the racist aspects of child abuse?
    Surely the Times has done well in identifying racist or sectarian attitudes in some child abuse rings? That offers the chance to challenge and address those attitudes and make things better. Whereas the Guardian’s response was – almost literally – to suggest the matter was best not mentioned.

  • thedissenter @ 10:55 am:

    Indeed. The crucial distinction I, however sceptically, have to accept is between premature “selection” versus informed choice.

    That, of course, presumes that the proper “informing” has been done, and is possible. Schools are not too hot on careers advice at the best of times. However, consider initiatives such as mychoicelondon. I assume this may survive the current government scorched-earth policies, if only because it is partly funded by the European Social Fund (oops! that’s guaranteed it a quick extinction!).

    Reader @ 11:56 am:

    Compare and contrast your final sentence there with Helen Carter’s piece yesterday. I’d see a difference between her report, on-topic and appropriate, with Andrew Norfolk’s near-hysteria. One doesn’t need to be an Islamophile to feel that Norfolk has an explicit agenda (going back at least five years to my knowledge) and that editor James Harding is prepared to indulge him.

    However, I apologise for bringing in a true-blue herring into a serious discussion of education policy, and thereby giving you the pretext for a familiar sneer.

  • Reader

    Malcolm Redfellow: Compare and contrast your final sentence there with Helen Carter’s piece yesterday.
    Were you as impressed with Libby Brooks? Her attacks on the Times article were so bumbling, confused and illogical that I treated them as an endorsement.
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/jan/07/grooming-racialising-crime-tradition
    By the way – should I read anything into your use of the word “appropriate”? Is Helen Carter to be congratulated as much for what she left out as for what she left in?
    And there is no point in you apologising for your red-herrings. You will do it again, soon enough.

  • slappymcgroundout

    The break in the deadlock is easy. To separate out students from the same geograhpical area denies some the equal protection of the law. It’s that simple. Each school can otherwise have its own honors program, and by program I do not mean to assign a child to the program. Those deemed most apt in English take honors English. Those deemed most apt in math take honors algebra 2/trigonometry. Those deemed most apt in history take honors history. Those deemed most apt in Russian take honors Russian. And you have the “shop” classes available for all, since even the would be rocket scientist might want to know how to fix the car and make things from wood and metal (might actually help him be a rocket scientist as well, since in addition to the physics, he’ll have some idea of what it means to work on the factory floor). As noted in the first reply, you can otherwise save the more advanced technical/vocational training for the college level. A two year program akin to the US community college program would suffice. Wouldn’t hurt the workforce either since a more mature worker makes for a better worker and we’re more likely to have mature at age 20 than age 18.

    For how absurd the notion of selection is, an old friend of mine from LA, who rode the early wave of computer science back in the early 80s (and who now earns well into the six figures) credits me with much of his success. He hadn’t been all that great at math, average at best, then I spent a goodly number of hours over the course of two years in high school helping him with his math after school. He credits me for teaching him the math that put him over the top. Of all the things that I have ever done… And if I didn’t give up on him, no reason that I can see why some misguided selection process should do so either.

    Lastly, what is the harm in comprehensive education? How bad could a comprehensive system be when up to age 11 or 14, the elite testing student was in a comprehensive system all of the prior time. That’s how dumb some are, as they can’t even remember that their elite testing student is her or him-self a product of a prior comprehensive education. And the, let’s shuffle them off to vocational school, has all the hallmarks of the eugenics movement. Just thought you should know.