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Back To The Future
MANY COMMENTATORS have welcomed the Tomlinson proposals to review the curriculum for 14-19 year olds. These will lead to a final report later in the year. Tomlinson advocates replacing GCSE and 'A' levels with a system of four diplomas - entry, foundation, intermediate and advanced - although not all pupils will have to take the first two.
Bob Sulatycki, National Union of Teachers (NUT)
Pupils will progress according to how they succeed, with the result that there will be many more mixed-age classes in secondary schools. The new arrangements are to be introduced over a 10-year period.
Critics from the union side have tended to focus on the upheaval that will be incurred, and the need for retraining of teachers, without addressing the underlying assumptions behind these very regressive reforms.
An editorial in the right-wing Daily Telegraph welcomes Tomlinson's "very good suggestions" and he himself has said that his proposals are in part a response to what employers want. We should not be surprised that a former deputy of Chris Woodhead in the schools inspection body OFSTED has come out with a thoroughly reactionary set of ideas.
The underlying motivations are to cut numbers (and thus costs) of students staying on at school, and of producing a workforce with the required low-level skills and flexibility for the low-wage economy for which they are to be prepared.
Tomlinson, hypocritically, cites pupil disaffection with the test-driven curriculum as a reason for introducing these changes. It is true that the exam-factory culture that has developed within schools over the past decade is an important reason for pupil disaffection.
Of course, OFSTED, under Tomlinson and Woodhead, has more responsibility than most for the promotion of this culture. The solution is to get rid of the tests - especially SATs, not to turn the clock back to the 1950s and before.
IT IS envisaged that pupils from the age of 14 will directed into a 'vocational route' outside the classroom for two days a week to learn a trade. One further day will be spent at college and the remaining two at school.
In a Daily Telegraph interview (21.2.04) Tomlinson said: "Junior apprenticeships could easily happen at 14". The hope is that the workplaces where they have been 'apprenticed' will take them on permanently at age 16.
This, and the fact that these pupils will, in effect, be barred from pursuing the higher-level diplomas, means that they will have their futures determined by age 14. It is, by stealth, a reduction of the school-leaving age to 14.
In addition, because schools will find it very difficult logistically and financially to offer the full range of diplomas, there will be a return - under a guise of specialisation - to the old pre-comprehensive tri-partite system of grammar, technical and secondary modern schools.
One net effect of the proposals will be a massive funding shift out of schools, with an attendant loss of staffing. This will be further accentuated by the admission from Tomlinson that thousands of pupils will now not reach the standards necessary to meet the qualifications needed to continue education to the higher-level diploma. The numbers continuing to the higher-level diploma (in effect the replacement for 'A' levels) will be drastically reduced.
Tomlinson echoes the right-wing educationalists who want to deny access to the rooms at the top for the increasing numbers of students who seek their place there.
Education unions, parents and students must campaign against the implementation of the Tomlinson proposals. In its place socialists will campaign for a broad balanced curriculum, where pupils can follow a full range of subjects; technical, artistic and academic, free from the treadmill of never ending tests.
But to make it interesting and relevant means having schools properly resourced, with reduced class size, additional support staffing, books, computers, access to playing space and sports fields. Finally, and importantly, we continue to campaign against the poverty and inequality which forces millions of working class pupils to fail to fulfil their potential in the current educational system.
No To Commercialisation And Privatisation
THE GOVERNMENT are continuingly making cuts to our education. The Tomlinson report is clearly linked to making more money out of education by allowing big business to 'invest' in it. These proposals and others, such as top-up fees, have very little to do with providing a decent education and future for people.
New Labour and their big business friends are only interested in offering young people low-skilled, low-paid work and think they can take us back to the days when working-class young people were forced to leave school at 14 to work.
International Socialist Resistance (ISR) is campaigning against this and the commercialisation and privatisation of our education. We need more teachers, smaller class sizes and the right to learn throughout our lives, for the benefit of society - not for big business.
In The Socialist 28 February 2004:
Socialist Party workplace news and analysis
International socialist news and analysis