Kenneth Baker: ‘Open your eyes, Gove – this is what pupils should learn’

Transfer children at 14, ditch exams at 16 and train a generation that can make things. The former Education Secretary Kenneth Baker publishes his radical vision for the future. This is from the Independent…

The English education system is about to experience a revolution caused by the raising of the school leaving/participation rate to age 17 this year and to 18 in 2015. It has been a long journey from a leaving age of 10 years in 1880, 11 in 1893, 12 in 1899, 14 in 1921, 15 in 1947, and 16 in 1972. Each change meant organising and creating new schools.

So education and training from now will be a continual process from age five to 18. This gives us a chance to rethink education between the ages of 14 and 18. I believe the correct age of transfer to full secondary education should be 14 and not 11. Eleven is too young and 16 is too old. This nearly happened in 1941 when the committee planning post-war education recommended selective grammar schools, selective technical schools and secondary moderns, and the transfer age to be age 13-14. This decision never went to ministers: the Permanent Secretary simply decided it was not possible, as “grammar schools start at 11”. Then, there were 1,600 grammar schools: now, there are 169 – so why have the age of 11 now?

A school-leaving examination at 16 is no longer needed – this is a costly and all-consuming examination, which no longer appears as necessary or relevant. What will be needed is a graduation certificate at 18, available to anyone who reaches a specific level in their academic/technical/vocational/artistic/apprenticeship studies, including the broader skills needed for success in further education, work and life.

When I introduced the national curriculum in the 1980s it extended to 16 and now I would stop it at 14. At 14 they should be assessed and, with the help of their parents and teachers, decide what educational pathway they want to follow. I would like to see the emergence of four types of colleges, schools, and academies:

1. Liberal Arts Colleges for academic studies akin to grammar schools;

2. University Technical Colleges (UTCs);

3. Career Colleges for practical, vocational subjects;

4. Sports, Creative and Performing Arts Colleges based on the highly successful Brit School in Croydon.

This will create a coherent array of routes leading to university, apprenticeships and employment.

The success of UTCs points the way: five are already open, 12 will open this year, 15 in 2014, and a further 21 have applied. These are employer-led and university-supported, providing a working day from 8.30am to 5pm for five eight-week terms, which means that over a four-year period the students gain an extra teaching year. From 14 to 16 they spend 40 per cent of the week on practical learning and 60 per cent on the core subjects including maths, English, science and foreign languages. From 16 to 18, the proportions are reversed.

The JCB Academy in Staffordshire has been open for two years. Last summer it had no Neets (Not in Education, Employment or Training) – at 16 or 18 every student went into a job, apprenticeship, further education or university. It has also discovered that by melding English and maths into engineering there were significant improvements in these subjects. Two years ago, 50 per cent of the students were forecast to achieve A to C grades in maths – this year, the same cohort of students achieved 88 per cent. Students have enjoyed working in teams and on projects provided by the employers that develop their problem-solving and presentational skills. They have also found that truancy and disruption virtually disappear – the disengaged become engaged.

The active involvement of employers is essential as they provide UTCs with teaching modules and projects in which their staff help with instruction. Rolls-Royce devised courses on piston pumps for one of the eight-week terms and showed students how to design and manufacture them. Network Rail devised courses in level crossings and signalling, and National Grid in gas-pumping stations. More than 450 companies are committed to supporting UTCs and this is the first time in our country that employers are actually shaping the curriculum.

More at:  Kenneth Baker: ‘Open your eyes, Gove – this is what pupils should learn’

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