Vocational schools to have nine hour days
New plans announced by the government could mean pupils stay at school for nine hours a day to master basic English and maths and train for a trade or craft.
The proposals are part of a blueprint for vocational studies intended to remedy the failure of the educsation system to ensure school-leavers are competent at reading, writing and mathematics.
Currently, more than half of 16 year-olds complete compulsory education in England without achieving a basic C grade in both English and maths, and up to a third then follow vocational courses that are useless in the workplace or add little or nothing to their future careers.
A government review revealed that as many as 400,000 students a year are currently studying worthless qualifications.
The new plans by Education Secretary, Michael Gove, would see many work-related qualifications scrapped in favour of a system in which employers play a much greater role.
The plans include new university technical colleges (UTCs), where pupils will begin studying at the age of 14. The UTCs will be backed by businesses to train the country's future mechanics, bricklayers and plumbers. Pupils attending the UTCs will be required to work nine-hour days for 40 weeks a year. This would be many more hours than is normal in secondary education in England.
The proposals echo the education system of a by-gone era, when students attended schools geared to either academic or practical learning.
Prof Alison Wolf of King's College London, who drew up the plans for Mr Gove, suggested that further education colleges should take more pupils from comprehensives from the age of 14. In addition, professionals who are not formally trained as teachers should be allowed into schools to teach vocational courses.
However, unions have warned that the plans could create a "two-tier" system. Sally Hunt, the general secretary of the University and College Union, said: "The Government must not create a new '14-plus' where students, typically from working-class backgrounds, are channelled in to vocational subjects while their wealthier contemporaries are encouraged to pursue academic paths."
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