I saw earlier this week some of the findings made by Alison Wolf, Professor of Public Sector Management at King's College London, in her review on vocational education.
"We have told young people in the UK that [non-GCSE qualifications] are equivalent to GCSEs in English and maths and when they arrive at college they have discovered they aren't. It is immoral."
She questions the possibility of making a GCSE in Maths and English compulsory up to 19, meaning that those who do not make the grade at 16 must resit until they do.
This is an issue I've been thinking about quite a lot recently, as one of the kids I work with is deeply disaffected from his school and has a reading age 5 years below his actual age of 12. We were talking about why he doesn't want to go school, and it certainly isn't because he lacks aspiration - he spoke passionately about looking forward to starting college in 4 years time, where he could study things he enjoys and is good at, like mechanics.
I am no fool and I am completely aware of how important it is for as many pupils as possible to get their GCSEs in Maths and English, but faced with this particular boy who is so firmly set against his academic education, which seems to have let him down to some extent, I found it difficult to explain why it is so important that he pushes for the grades.
I found myself arguing that it is something he needs to 'get over and done with' and that is absolutely not my actual view of education - I am one of those types who sees education as being primarily about developing and sating the thirst for knowledge - but I could find no better way to engage him.
What do people think? How could we engage pupils of very low 'academic' ability to get those vital grades in Maths and English? And when the child in question, like the boy I work with, is technically and practically very competent, gifted even, does this make things even more difficult?
I know the virtues of Maths and English, but when the child in question would be able to develop himself, enjoy school again and fully engage in his learning, given the opportunities for vocational hands-on learning, I find it difficult to tell him to rest all his hopes on the former.