‘One size fits all’ system lets down less academic pupils, warns Ofsted chief

The Guardian is reporting that Sir Michael Wilshaw is to claim pupils who are less academic are being let down by a “one size fits all” education system that fails to prepare them for the world of work.

In what will be seen as a sharp rebuke to the government, Sir Michael Wilshaw will criticise the UK’s record on youth unemployment, blaming the failure to provide high quality vocational training for teenagers who don’t go into higher education.

He will say that educational provision for the many children who do not succeed at 16 – or those who don’t want to pursue an academic path – is “inadequate at best and non-existent at worst”.

Teenagers who fail to achieve the required C grade in maths and English at 16 “make little or no progress” in further education colleges two years later. “Our responsibilities as educators do not end when students fail to attain our targets,” he will say. “On the contrary, the written off and the ‘failed’ need our help most and we should never forget it.”

In what is being billed as a keynote speech to the CentreForum education thinktank, the Ofsted chief is expected to call for a more “inclusive” approach to education. He will say that too many young people are left behind at the age of 16, and are disadvantaged because current preparations for the world of work are poor and careers guidance in schools and colleges are “uniformly weak”…

“They too deserve an education worthy of the name,” he is to say. “The country cannot continue to fail half its future. The great comprehensive school headteacher knows that a ‘one size fits all’ model of secondary education will never deliver the range of success that their youngsters need. Some of our international competitors understand this probably better than we do.

“Their education systems are more flexible than ours and are much more geared to aligning the potential of the student with the needs of their economies. As a result, countries with excellent academic and technical routes have far lower youth unemployment than we do…”

More at: ‘One size fits all’ system lets down less academic pupils, warns Ofsted chief


The Guardian goes on to say that Sir Michael is expected to outline his own vision for a “truly comprehensive” secondary school system – not, it says, the “dumbing down” and “aggressive anti-elitism” of the comprehensive agenda of the 1960s and 70s.

Is Sir Michael right to suggest less academic pupils are let down in the system at present and should we be prepared to look at radically different approaches?

Please let us know what you think in the comments or via Twitter…

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Categories: Employment, Policy and Secondary.


  1. What is it about education that we can not build on what we have we have to tear it down and build something new. We had vocational routes to higher education. There colleges and polytechnics. There were apprenticeships built into vocational routes. There was careers education through Connexions. What was the alter on which all of this has been sacrificed? Hard to tell if it is political, self interest, academic hysteria, fear of “being left behind” in the world, money, ideology or something else.  Possibly that one driving force – the seeking of the “one way”, the silver bullet, the magic potion, the holly grail that will make our education perfect and better than any other country in the world. So much depends on getting it right that we appear hell bent on getting it right quick only to throw everything away that we have that works or is working in favor of the “one way”.
    More of the “one way” and its dangers here: 

  2. Sir M is right – we are failing the same ‘Half Our Future’ that Newsom identified 50 years ago.  And he’s right about the dire state of careers education and guidance (CEG) in English schools – sunk from the high water mark of TVEI in the 80s.
    But he’s wrong in his caricature of comprehensive education in the 60s and 70s being ‘dumbed down’.  The impetus behind the comprehensive movement was to provide educational opportunities for all children based on the recognition that all children, not just the top 20%, could take exams.

  3. thiskidsthinkin

    One size fits all education system will never work, as children are all different abilities. Even when you do cater for all abilities, there will still be children who will find it very hard to comply to anyone’s instruction, and they will have to be shown how to be entrepreneurs/work for themselves at whatever natural skills they possess.

  4. Sam_Peepz

    SchoolsImprove Written off by who? Failed by who? Those who respect feelings are not fit to educate anyone. Teaching profession are guilty.

  5. andylutwyche

    SchoolsImprove Whilst he’s right on voc course quality his “Ebacc for almost all” consigns many, by his own admission, to exam failure

  6. KarenStears

    SchoolsImprove Maybe if we educators refused to play the game of setting targets we might help end the concept of winners & losers.

  7. irvingphil

    SchoolsImprove …and yet they’re killing college education, which picks up the pieces precisely when this happens.

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