spiked proposals: Secondary education
Focus teachers on teaching their subjects; separate education from training for work; teach children what's good for them, not what they are thought to be good at.
Education lies at the forefront of New Labour’s election campaign, as it pledges to ‘realise the talent of all’. But Labour’s education policy seems to be less about education than it is about broader political and social priorities.
To create a decent education system, the government should:
- Focus teachers on teaching their subjects
From citizenship classes to sex-and-relationship education, from awareness-raising about bullying to inculcating children with Gordon Brown’s ‘business ethic’, teachers are increasingly expected to do a lot more than just teach their subjects. A physics teacher, for example, is not just supposed to worry about pupils’ grasp of the laws of motion, but also about their IT skills, their spiritual and moral awareness, and their view of British business.
Teachers should be focused on teaching – not encouraged to behave like social workers, or to act as spokespeople for government and business.
- Separate education from training for work
Labour’s plans for a ‘radical extension’ of vocational courses for 14- and 15-year olds, and the development of vocational A-levels, blurs the difference between training for work and education. A distinction needs to be made between the general knowledge and generic reasoning skills taught in compulsory education, and practical skills for direct application in job situations. A sound academic education is the basis on which vocational skills can be developed later in life.
As part of an effort to ‘[liberate] the particular talent of every child’, New Labour’s manifesto pledges the creation of more specialist schools. The implication is that each child has an inner seed of aptitude for a particular subject, that just needs watering in order to grow. The suggestion that pupils have a fixed, natural aptitude for particular subjects or skills limits the possibility of educational transformation.
There is a danger that emphasis on specialisation at a young age provides children with a narrower and more partial schooling, and prevents them from finding out about other subjects in which they might excel. Children should be given a solid all-round education up until the age of 16, when they are in the position to decide for themselves where their talents lie, and what goals they want to pursue.
Toby Marshall lectures in media studies in east London
Alex Standish is a teacher
David Perks is a science teacher in south London
The key to skills, by Alex Standish
Fragmenting education, by Toby Marshall and David Perks
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