Tories plan new technical schools

05 Oct 2009

The Conservatives' plans for new 'technical schools' in 12 major English cities sound rather like a return to the old tripartite system of: grammar schools, technical schools and secondary  moderns.  

That, of course, was meant to be the system set up by the 1944 Education Act. But it never really happened because lack of money in post-war Britain meant most of the planned technical schools were not built. Nor was there ever any chance of parity of esteem between the three types of secondary school.

The Tories are right to say there is a need for a good, high quality vocational route from age 14. The question is whether this is the way to do it.

FE colleges may well argue that they could open their doors to full-time 14 year-olds, although some may have reservations about whether all 14 year-olds could cope with being deposited in such different surroundings.

I fear though that the idea for 12 technical schools sounds rather like tokenism.   I do not worry as much as some do about the charge that this involves separating children into 'sheep and goats'. What matters is that the technical education should be of good quality and should not be too job specific, as no-one can be sure which jobs the economy will need in 10 years time.

The vocational courses taken by 14 year-olds must include core skills (numeracy and literacy) and 'soft skills' (team-working, problem solving etc) to ensure maximum flexibility for these youngsters.

Now, it could be argued that this is exactly what the diploma is meant to do. But the Tories do not seem to like the diplomas.

However, might they not do better to reform the diplomas (adding more practical work in some and removing some of the complexity) rather than suggesting a dozen schools which can only ever reach a minority of young students.

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