S/he won’t want it, but here is my advice to the next Education Secretary

Janet Downs's picture
Whoever you are you’ve been pretty quiet about education during the election campaign. Perhaps we can hope you’ll stay quiet during the next five years. Silence, remember, is Golden.

I fear, however, that’s a forlorn hope. There seems to be nothing education secretaries like better than to tell teachers how to do their jobs; what curriculum or methods to use; and to change school structures in the name of ‘improvement’. So, here’s my advice:

1Take notice of the OECD’s warning that the PISA results for the year 2000 were faulty and shouldn’t be used for comparison. That’s in case you want to justify more ‘reforms’ on the grounds that England was ‘plummeting’ down league tables.

2The evidence you use should say what you claim it says. At the very least ensure you know the difference between ‘systematic’ and ‘synthetic’. They don’t mean the same thing.

3If you cite surveys to back up whatever assertion comes into your head take care to check them first. That way you’ll avoid the ridicule which Gove attracted when he used UKTVGold and Premier Inn to back up his claims that English teenagers were clueless about history.

4Remember what the UK Statistics Watchdog said: Year 6 pupils with Level 3 CAN read, write and do sums. (This is also a warning to the shadow Education Secretary – if SAT results go down this year as expected, don’t say that under the Tories, one-third of 11 year-olds are leaving school illiterate and innumerate.)

5Do what the Education Select Committee said: don’t exaggerate academy performance. Non-academies do just as well.

6Stop calling non-academies ‘council-run schools’ especially if delivered with a curled lip. It will make you look petty and it gives the impression you favour one type of school over another.

7Remember: all those pupils you claim are ‘failing’ because they don’t achieve 5 ‘good’ GCSEs will be voters by the time of the next election.

8Your plans for more apprenticeships etc will be undermined if you push Russell Group universities as the ‘best’ route especially if you judge schools on the number of pupils they send to them.

9Copy wise teachers – do not have favourites and set them up as exemplars. It undermines your judgement if they fall from grace (this is especially true if you awarded them gongs).

10Stop swooping on the education systems in other countries to find some nuggets which accord with your prejudices. Try looking closer to home: the Cambridge Primary Review, the NUT’s manifesto for education, or the ideas of the Headteachers’ Roundtable for example.

Finally, two crises are looming – the shortage of school places (which will hit secondary schools by the end of the coming Parliament) and teacher supply. You won’t solve the former by relying on free schools. Experience shows many have been set up where they’re not needed and some, such as University Technology Colleges, struggle to attract pupils. So you’ll need to discuss provision with local authorities – they know best where the shortages are. As for the latter, teacher recruitment is down and likely to become worse if, as we’ve been told, the economy picks up. It would be unwise to rely on unqualified enthusiasts doing a job as important as educating children.

ADDENDUM 9 May 10.25. Aspirations Academies Trust (AAT) wants to reduce the number of pupils in two of its secondary academies, according to Schools Week. The Trust claims it 'can't cope' with the large intake in these schools. But AAT knew the size of these schools when it took them over. Alan Parker, former schools adjudicator, told Schools Week:

'This is a very good illustration of what is wrong with the system at the moment. If academies want to be difficult about things, they can play the system.' He went on to say 'the most damaging factor' in this case was 'the deliberate restriction of the size of the school when there is a shortage of places in the area.'

The ability of academies to raise their Pupil Admission Number without permission and their ability to request permission to downsize or even close academies as in the case of WGAT and Charles Read Academy near Grantham together with the insistence that new schools should be academies or free schools makes it impossible to ensure sufficient school places. This is something you will need to address urgently.

EXTRA – Read School Myths: And the Evidence that Blows Them Apart.
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Leah K Stewart's picture
Fri, 08/05/2015 - 13:58

Nice one Janet. Nothing to add right now. Just to say how much I personally appreciate your fluency in studies, data and evidence.

mistemina's picture
Fri, 08/05/2015 - 14:12

Hope he/she will not be be too full of themselves to take notice of your advice.

Janet Downs's picture
Sat, 09/05/2015 - 08:55

John - I've just emailed the new Education Secretary Nicky Morgan and linked to my advice. I shall be adding an addendum to the above in due course about an academy chain reducing its PAN - this type of action will make ensuring sufficient school place supply even more difficult.

Guest's picture
Sat, 09/05/2015 - 09:35

With regard to UTCs they are not and never were intended to be just another academy school. The purpose of the UTC is to meet the known need/shortages within all forms of engineering and construction: hence they are 14-19 institutions rooted in STEM. They are supposed to cater for pupils/students who want careers in Science, Technology and Engineering and as such are intended to have standard pupil in-take or become dumping grounds for difficult pupils that LAs find hard to place. In short they are supposed to be specialist schools to help meet the nations need for specialist Science, Engineering, Technology, and Construction careers.

The message to Mrs Morgan and Mr Cameron on UTCs is:

1. They are not best served by being setup in out of town/city locations that made travel to and from difficult (e.g. pupils travelling in excess of an hour each way)
2. They are not Studio schools
3. They are not alternative schools for disaffected/disengaged pupils
4. They are not PRUs
5. They are not Special schools. The latter are very different from Specialist STEM curriculum schools
6. In the initial years, by their very nature, they cannot survive on purely setup funding and Awpu. They need time to establish and for their results to bear fruit in terms of the marketplace recognising and looking to their success in producing the specialists that the Science, Technology, Engineering and Construction industries are crying out for.

A plea to LSN contributors is:

a. Do not lump UTCs into the mix as just another schools variant (e.g. academy or free school labels)
b. At least try to understand the purpose and goal of the UTC movement (Baker/Dearing Trust)
c. Acknowledge the very real need for a learning and career pathway to provide our Engineers (whether science or mechanical or electrical or civil/architectural) and Technologists, and that this requires careful and sustained development and support.

Janet Downs's picture
Sat, 09/05/2015 - 09:53

Guest - you'd better tell the DfE. The School Performance Tables lists each UTC as 'Free School - University Technology College'.

There is no need for a 'career pathway' at age 14. Parents, as I said, are voting with their children's feet. UTCs are finding it difficult to recruit at 14. And most of the rest of the developed world has a broad, balanced curriculum until 16 when pupils decide choices before moving to upper secondary.

There is, of course, a need for specific vocational education at 16+ - this can equally be provided in existing further education colleges. The millions spent (and continues to be spent) on setting up UTCs (two of which are already closing after just a couple of years) could be invested in existing provision.

There is, however, a need for general work-related education at 14+ (if not earlier). Lord Baker established the Technical and Vocational Education Initiative (TVEI) which did much to raise the profile of careers education and guidance (CEG). I was involved in this and was a fan. However, the initiative died and CEG provision sank with it. The money spent on UTCs would be better spent on reviving and updating TVEI.

Rosie Fergusson's picture
Sat, 09/05/2015 - 10:42

and here's a top tip for Nicky Morgan to leave on a post-it for a successor in case she's awarded an alternative post ..." make sure you sneak through mendacious changes to the School Admissions Policy just before Christmas ( 19th Dec best)...they still haven't noticed MY change to now allow fee- paying nursery children to be prioritised for entry into Reception...(even Gove didn't have the balls for that one lol) xx Nicky "

Rosie Fergusson's picture
Sat, 09/05/2015 - 10:46

P.S ....other top tip is to look at allowing 11-18 free schools migrating to City Technology College status...that way they can claim to be a comprehensive but ignore the admissions code and operate social and academic selection with impunity......works really well for Thomas Telford Comp ( lol) kisses and hugs Nicky

Janet Downs's picture
Sat, 09/05/2015 - 11:44

Rosie - I was puzzled by the change in the Schools Admission Code which appears to allow schools to prioritise pupils in school nurseries for entry into Reception and any money paid for extra hours doesn't count as 'financial help' (which is forbidden).

The reason for my confusion was another clause in the Code which said:

'Admission authorities may give priority in their oversubscription criteria to children eligible for the early years pupil premium, the pupil premium or the service premium who:
a) are in a nursery class which is part of the school; or
b) attend a nursery that is established and run by the school. The
nursery must be named in the admission arrangements and its
selection must be transparent and made on reasonable grounds.'

These two criteria are confusing: either all nursery children can be given priority OR only pupil premium children OR pupil premium children can be prioritised over other nursery children who can also be prioritised but after the pp ones.

Confused? So am I.

Janet Downs's picture
Sat, 09/05/2015 - 11:47

Rosie - City Technology Colleges (CTCs) were set up years ago under a previous Tory administration. Most of them became academies but about three, including Thomas Telford, didn't. The Office of the Schools Adjudicator told me CTCs weren't covered by the Schools Admission Code. The whole situation is ludicrous.

Andy V's picture
Sat, 09/05/2015 - 12:13

I assume you are aware of the following, which carries rather more clout than the click button approach of the performance table publication:

Policy paper
2010 to 2015 government policy: academies and free schools

Published 7 May 2015

"Free schools, university technical colleges and studio schools

We are:

working to increase the number of studio schools and university technical colleges (UTCs)"

"UTCs are academies for 14- to 19-year-olds, and provide an education that meets the needs of employers. They offer technical courses and work-related learning, combined with academic studies."


A key issue for UTC enrolment is that of accessibility. Try visiting one and check out the array of equipment appropriate to the specialisation (e.g. up to date lathes and machine tools and 3D printers).

There comes a point where it needs to be recognised that a one-size fits all curriculum and set of qualifications doesn't meet the needs of all pupils.

Janet Downs's picture
Sat, 09/05/2015 - 14:31

Guest: You wrote: 'A plea to LSN contributors is: a. Do not lump UTCs into the mix as just another schools variant (e.g. academy or free school labels)'

But the policy paper you provided says:

'UTCs are academies...'

It's unclear how we can follow your call to unlump UTCs from academies when the paper you found said they were, er, academies.

I'm unsure what you mean by the 'click button approach of the performance table publication'. The DfE produces the tables. Are you suggesting it does so at the click of a button? If so, how exactly?

Re lathes, machine tools etc. FE Colleges have those.

'One-size-fits-all' - disparaging description of a broad, balanced curriculum which is the entitlement of all children until 16 (as in most of the developed world) - no specialisation at 14, no dropping subjects until 16.

Janet Downs's picture
Sun, 10/05/2015 - 09:09

Guest - you are probably familiar with a straw man argument whereby someone misinterprets what someone says and attack the misinterpretation. That's what you have done. I did not say children should all receive the same 'one-size-fits' all curriculum. I said they were entitled to a broad, balanced curriculum ie one in which they learn about a wide range of subjects. That's the framework in which teachers are free to teach what is the best fit for their particular pupils. It is NOT a mandatory curriculum (eg the National Curriculum) which schools legally have to follow (or one, such as Core Curriculum UK which is marketed with Gov't approval as what a 'good' curriculum looks like.)

I spent much of my time teaching before there was a mandatory National Curriculum. It undermines the professionalism of teachers to be told what, when and how to teach.

Regarding UTCs, as I've said twice already - parents are voting with their children's feet. They are not popular particularly at age 14. It is unacceptable that millions of pounds is being spent on this policy when the money would be better spent on existing provision or reintroducing an up-to-date version of TVEI.

Janet Downs's picture
Sat, 09/05/2015 - 14:41

It seems I may have been a little premature in saying Nicky Morgan was the new Education Secretary. I was led astray by careless reading of a BBC report entitled Election 2015: Cameron's New Cabinet. I whizzed down the page and saw Morgan as Education Secretary. It was only later, much later (and after I'd emailed her congratulating her) I read in the Times that decisions about other ministers wouldn't be made until Monday. Rechecking the BBC article I noticed further up the page (and not in bold, a larger font or underlined) 'Cabinet posts still to be confirmed'.

I shall now email Morgan and say my congratulations were rather hasty.

Janet Downs's picture
Sun, 10/05/2015 - 09:10

It's been announced that Morgan is the new Education Secretary. I'd like to say I was remarkably prescient but I would be fibbing.

Andy V's picture
Sat, 09/05/2015 - 15:00

"disparaging description of a broad, balanced curriculum which is the entitlement of all children until 16 (as in most of the developed world) – no specialisation at 14, no dropping subjects until 16." Did you mean 'entitlement' or are you glibly wanting to perpetuate the enforcement of a curriculum upon some pupils for whom it is a straight jacket leading to frustration anger and psychological damage. Even in the days before you retired there were children for whom - standfast E&M - the national curriculum was total anathema and caused knock on negative impacts for schools (pupils whose learning and lessons were regularly disrupted, teachers worn to a frazzle trying to keep such pupils in the room and under control). For goodness sake get real. While such curricular models can and do work for the majority there are others for whom it never has.

There are other bright and capable pupils for whom the national curriculum is not a good fit. Why, simply because they are disengaged by it but who nevertheless have real talent and skills in other areas that interest them. The latter is where Studio and UTC schools fit in.

So let us just accept that we are not going to have a meeting of minds on this.

Rosie Fergusson's picture
Sat, 09/05/2015 - 19:47

Hi J, I wasn't confused...I was apoplectic (as I remember)..to me this action of La Belle Morgan is very ominous ....say what you like about Mr Gove ( and indeed we do) somewhere deep in the heart of all the misguided and damaging and inappropriate and bullying though the policies were , was his commitment to social mobility and aspiration. I just don't get that from Morgan. To me she exhibits only commitment to the views of your average aggrieved, self-righteous, reactionary, delusional and opinionated highly qualified Mumsnet member ( indeed as far as I can see it's possibly her unofficial policy advisory unit that and the Inner Westminster NCT/home Education network).

Rosie Fergusson's picture
Sat, 09/05/2015 - 19:49

It certainly is ...did you know the Headteacher of TTC personally paws the Year 5 Report of every applicant?

Janet Downs's picture
Sun, 10/05/2015 - 07:56

Rosie - it was the head's policy of looking at Year 5 reports that spurred me to complain to OSA, They said they couldn't take up the complaint because CTCs were exempt from the Schools Admission Code.

mistemina's picture
Sun, 10/05/2015 - 10:35

From today's papers. Apologies for the length, these are all relevant to the debate on this thread:

Sunday, 10 May 2015
Morgan to remain as education secretary
The PM has confirmed that Nicky Morgan will remain as education secretary in his new look cabinet. She will also remain as minister for equalities. On Twitter, Ms Morgan said she was "delighted" with her re-appointment. Her main task will be to expand the number of academies and open hundreds more free schools. A Downing Street source said: "This is a huge vote of confidence in Nicky Morgan - who will continue with the radical programme of education reform." Michael Gove, the former education secretary, will become the new justice secretary, moving from his role as chief whip.
The Sunday Times, Page: 2-3 The Sunday Telegraph, Page: 6 The Independent on Sunday, Page: 4-5 The Observer, Page: 1,3 Sunday Express, Page: 6-7 The Mail on Sunday, Page: 7 The Sun, Page: 10-11 BBC News

Hunt expected to run for Labour leadership
The shadow education secretary Tristram Hunt is expected to throw his hat into the ring in the contest to replace Ed Miliband as Labour leader. Friends of Mr Hunt said he was the candidate to reach out beyond Labour’s base and appeal to voters who had backed the Conservatives in English seats in the Midlands and the south of England. One MP said: “Tristram looks the part. We need someone who wants to be prime minister rather than someone who just wants to be leader of the Labour Party - that is not going to help voters in Britain”.
The Independent on Sunday, Page: 7

Education funding lesson
A collection of teaching union heads write to the Sunday Times concerned that unless the new Conservative government takes the right decisions on education funding, pupils and students across the UK are likely to be hit hard by significant cuts in education provision. They argue that without action to protect funding, students will see bigger class sizes, fewer teachers and a reduced curriculum.
The Sunday Times, Page: 30


Parents face fines if children are late for class
The Sunday Times reports that thousands of schools will begin fining parents £60 if their children are repeatedly late for class. Councils are warning parents about financial penalties if their children fail to arrive in time for registration. The fines are doubled if not paid within 21 days and there is the threat of prosecution and even prison if parents refuse to pay. It is noted that Southend Council is deploying "late gate patrols" to stop unpunctual parents and ask them why their children are not on time. Anne Jones, Southend's councillor for children and learning, said: “We do not want to be prosecuting parents but we also want children to be in school and there comes a time where we have no further options.”
The Sunday Times, Page: 7

Teacher fined over holiday
A teacher in Manchester has been fined for taking her two children out of school for a trip to Peru. Jenny Hayden and husband Anthony jetted off with their children on a 12-day trip of the South American country. On their return, the parents were hit with a £240 fine - £120 per child - after the children missed seven days of school. Mrs Hayden - a qualified teacher who runs a pre-school business with a friend - said on Facebook that the trip helped enrich her children's educations. In the post, she said: “As a teacher myself I feel those seven days away from school did not jeopardise my children's education in any way, it ultimately enhanced it. I pay my fine of £240 and pat myself on the back for investing in my children's education and their future.” Separately, Sian Griffiths writes in the Sunday Times that holidays are a chance to let children discover, and try out and pursue subjects that they can feel passionate about for a lifetime. She adds that they can be educational and do not undermine learning.
Manchester Evening News, Page: 2 The Sunday Times, Travel, Page: 7


More grammar schools possible
The Observer briefly looks at what the Conservatives plan to do on education in the next government. The party’s manifesto states that it will allow all good schools to expand, “including state maintained, free schools, academies and grammar schools”. One of the first tasks of education secretary Nicky Morgan will be to decide whether to allow the Weald of Kent grammar school in Tonbridge to open an "annexe" 10 miles away in Sevenoaks. If she does assent, and many senior Tory backbenchers are encouraging her to do so, this could pave the way for more grammars to open across the country. The paper also notes that English schools face a budget cut of an estimated 10% in real terms during the next parliament. The PM has claimed to have ring-fenced the education budget, but the Observer points out he will not protect it from inflation.
The Observer, Page: 3


Swedish model poses problems
Louise Callaghan in the Sunday Times looks at how plunging education standards in Sweden’s free schools may be a bad sign for the English system. She notes that the Swedish government is under intense pressure to raise education standards after a scathing report published last week by the OECD detailed the decline of performance in Sweden’s schools and recommended immediate “profound changes”. The report was met with resignation in Sweden, where the educational establishment has long been aware of the decline in standards. “It is no surprise that Sweden has to get better. Our education system has problems,” said Anna Ekstrom, head of Sweden’s education agency. Commenting on the free school movement, Russell Hobby, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said: “We have no problem with innovative and high-quality schools being created by parents and teachers together. However, too many free schools have been created at significant expense in areas without real need. At a time of scarce budgets and rocketing pupil numbers elsewhere, this is not an effective approach.”
The Sunday Times, News Review, Page: 8


Lloyd Webber urges government to do more on music
Andrew Lloyd Webber has warned that America has overtaken Britain in producing the best young rock musicians. The theatre impresario said he had been impressed by the ability of about 22,000 American children, aged 10 and 11, who had auditioned for a role in School of Rock, his new musical to be staged in New York. However, he was concerned by how much more proficient with instruments such as guitars and drums they were than their British counterparts. Looking ahead, Lord Lloyd Webber urged the government to do more to support music in schools, saying there were now fewer opportunities to learn music without paying for it than when he and his cellist brother, Julian, had been growing up.
The Sunday Times, Page: 14


Social help
The Observer carries two letters in response to an article last week on how schools have become a social safety net. Sandra Fisher writes that teachers may feel that they receive criticism for wasting teaching time and resources, but they know they are doing the right thing by children in their care. Meanwhile, Liv Darling says that support in schools should be a beneficial addition to proper treatment for children who suffer mental health difficulties.
The Observer, Page: 42

Born naughty?
The Times previews Born Naughty?, a four-part TV series which starts this week on Channel 4. The documentary will follow a number of young children who have been excluded from school.
The Sunday Times, News Review, Page: 8


Poor-performing children’s chiefs avoid tax
The Sunday Times claims that bosses of some of the worst-performing council children’s departments earn up to £1,000 a day, with the money paid to their own personal service companies that can be used to avoid tax. It says that by being self-employed with untaxed earnings paid into a personal service company, council bosses can use a number of legal devices to reduce their tax bills by thousands of pounds a year.
The Sunday Times, Page: 8


Woodhead replies
Sir Chris Woodhead answers readers’ questions in the Sunday Times. This week he discusses whether tests should be introduced for four-and-five year olds. He believes that the information the tests provide will be useful for teachers as they plan work for their pupils and when it comes to assessing their progress. He also touches on whether an exam board should have been chosen for a school and replies to a teacher who was given a low rating for his teaching ability.
The Sunday Times, News Review, Page: 8

Muslim jibe leads to axe
A teacher who told a class of teenage girls that he was 'allergic' to Muslims and they 'worshipped the devil' will be banned from the profession for life this week. The Rev Robert West, who stood for the British National Party in the General Election, made the comments during a discussion on the use of cavalry in the Crusades at Walton Girls High School in Grantham. Andrew Colman of the National College for Teaching and Leadership said his remarks were 'unacceptable'.
The Mail on Sunday, Page: 39

Pascal Sansbouclier's picture
Sun, 10/05/2015 - 11:18

The strange phenomenon of our times — one which will probably astound our descendants — is the doctrine based on this triple hypothesis: the total inertness of mankind, the omnipotence of the law, and the infallibility of the legislator. These three ideas form the sacred symbol of those who proclaim themselves totally democratic.
The advocates of this doctrine also profess to be social. So far as they are democratic, they place unlimited faith in mankind. But so far as they are social, they regard mankind as little better than mud.

The claims of local authorities, that the author above recommends be consulted regarding provision, raise a question which I have often asked them and which, so far as I know, they have never answered: If the natural tendencies of mankind are so bad that it is not safe to permit schools to be free, how is it that the tendencies of these organizers are always good? Do not the local authorities and their appointed agents also belong to the human race? Or do they believe that they themselves are made of a finer clay than the rest of mankind? The organizers maintain that society, when left undirected, rushes headlong to its inevitable destruction because the instincts of the people are so perverse. The legislators claim to stop this suicidal course and to give it a saner direction. Apparently, then, the legislators and the organizers have received from heaven an intelligence and virtue that place them beyond and above mankind; if so, let them show their titles to this superiority.

They would be the shepherds over us, their sheep. Certainly such an arrangement presupposes that they are naturally superior to the rest of us. And certainly we are fully justified in demanding from the legislators and organizers proof of this natural superiority…these organizers desire access to the tax funds and to the power of the law in order to carry out their plans. In addition to being oppressive and unjust, this desire also implies the fatal supposition that the organizer is infallible and mankind is incompetent.

mistemina's picture
Sun, 10/05/2015 - 11:36


Janet Downs's picture
Sun, 10/05/2015 - 11:57

Thanks for the summary, John. It's not surprising that Morgan will press on with academy conversion and more free schools. She's always supported them. However, there is firm evidence now that neither academies or free schools as a group are no better than non-academies. With schools facing a funding cut, it may be more difficult to convert schools without opposition (there's a cost to the taxpayer every time a school converts or when they change hands) or set up a free school in areas where there are surpluses.

But her 'main task' is not pushing through the flawed (and expensive) academies/free school programme. It is actually tackling the school place shortage and ensuring there are sufficient numbers of teachers being trained and, one trained, are retained.

There's also the immediate need to sort out the problems at CHAT including setting up an independent inquiry into allegations of bullying. She might also like to find out how it was that her predecessor maintained the fiction that Patricia Sowter, founder of CHAT, 'turned round' Cuckoo Hall Primary School from inadequate to outstanding when it had actually come out of special measures in 1999, three years before her arrival in 2002.

mistemina's picture
Sun, 10/05/2015 - 12:49

I am getting very concerned at the sheer number of allegations on bullying, covert intimidation and general willingness to cover-up as second nature.
I hear of this from schools, but increasingly from Home County LAs.
One staff member informed me that 'it was frowned upon' if they joined any but a certain political party (which party is not important except in the context of this county). I have also been informed of other intimidation.

Alice's picture
Sun, 10/05/2015 - 19:50

Janet, she has already had a personal letter from Nick du Bois regarding CHAT and numerous communications from the rest of us via the DfE and EFA. Let's hope the overwhelming euphoria of a return to post doesn't distract her from the job in hand.

Leah K Stewart's picture
Sun, 10/05/2015 - 12:22

Pascal, this is brilliant. Who are you? I'm Leah, I'm a recent graduate who saw enough our school system as a student to know that it can not continue as it is with only tweaks and new policies. As a student I dedicated myself to getting everything possible from our system in order to improve my life, only to see how empty it is and how unjustly my peers and teachers are treated within it. My 'base' is here: www.leahkstewart.com and I'd love you to take a look and get in touch, if you'd like. Via research, writing and interviews I'm exploring the limitations of centrally controlled education systems.

Roger Titcombe's picture
Sun, 10/05/2015 - 12:56

Guest - You are right that I am not going to agree with you. The fundamental question is who and what is the education system for? My view is that it is to empower young people and adults to have choice and control over their own lives. Your emphasis is to provide the right kind of employees needed by our industries. My point is that although these are not mutually exclusive, it matters who is in control. I am reminded of the careers interview with the 15 year-old Billy Casper in the the 1969 film 'Kes'. It wouldn't have mattered what Billy wanted to do with his life - he was conscripted for a 'career' in 'the pit'.

I remember telling our assembled pupils on many occasions that their school days were characterised by their teachers being primarily committed to their personal interests and that this would not apply to their employers when they left school. Schools are provided out of working people's taxes to look after the interests of working people's children. The purpose of schools in my view is to give young people the knowledge, skills and most of all, the intellectual powers and wisdom, to navigate successfully the choices they would have to make in their lives. Allowing schools to restrict those choices at age14 has no place in such an educational philosophy.

In 1989 I was appointed head of a secondary school deep in the working class district of a northern 'company' town. As the son of a Brummie toolmaker (see 'Learning Matters') the concept of a company town was both new and alien to me. I had met it only once before in 1966 when I was employed by the Workington Iron and Steel Company in the first of the three six monthly industrial training periods of my four-year 'sandwich' degree course in metallurgy. I was billeted in a 'company' lodging house. One Monday morning shortly after I arrived at work I was sent for by the boss. He gave me a bollocking for arriving back at my digs the previous Saturday night mildly intoxicated from a long evening spent in 'The Lifeboat' pub under the railway arches in Harrington. My view was that what I chose to do on a Saturday night was no business of my employer.

On exam results day before my first term of headship, I arrived at the school to find two personnel officers from the town's main employer going through the pupils' personal exam results in the school office. It was the last time that ever happened.

I am all in favour of school pupils being well prepared for high quality technical and scientific careers, but no career defining pathways should be allowed to depart from a broad and balanced education before the age of 16. The reasons for this are set out very clearly in 'Learning Matters' and have been restated on this website many times. However I want to make a new point.

Children age 14 are rightly legally barred from getting married and having sex. Adults that choose to exploit 14 year-olds in these regards are guilty of the crime of 'grooming'. Grooming children for particular careers by schools is also wrong.

When I was 14 I wanted to be a journalist. I took and got C+ grade GCEs in English, English Literature, French, Geography, Art, Maths, Physics, Chemistry, Woodwork and Technical Drawing. And this was at a Birmingham selective Technical School.

My career path has taken me through being a research metallurgist at the English Electric Company in Stafford to a science teacher. In 1981/82 I took a full time M.Ed course at Leicester University where I became inspired by the work of Michael Shayer and Philip Adey, which eventually led to my recently published book.

The life opportunities of 14+ UTC conscripts should not be constrained by curriculum pathways that shut them out of potentially inspirational learning experiences in the arts and humanities. If it was not necessary in 1958 when I passed the 11 plus and went to a Birmingham Technical School, it is neither desirable nor necessary now.

Janet Downs's picture
Mon, 11/05/2015 - 10:03

Or encourage her to give the letters low priority because the problem is 'old Parliament'.

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