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Academic rigour versus vocationalism

Tom Finn-Kelcey misses the point in "Educational idealism has gone topsy-turvy" (Comment, 30 November). Academic rigour versus vocationalism is a more sophisticated issue. Effective learning requires practical competence.

The CBI and others complain that despite rising academic grades we still do not produce enough people who can think for themselves, make decisions and take responsibility. Academic-priority schooling does not teach these skills, surrendering to increasingly meaningless university entrance demands. Academia is losing popularity, too, not just because of cost but because of credibility.

Arising from my Ofsted experience, I worked for 55 school weeks over 14 years in Sweden, observing lessons and training teachers. Sixth-form vocational lessons reflected a generally higher quality of teaching and more concentrated student effort. When electrical department renovations were not ready on time, final-year students said they could complete the job.

An excellent Herefordshire secondary school needed a new classroom when I visited two summers ago. I saw little evidence of builders. "No," said the talented head, "Year 9 are building it."

Tony Blair may have prized what works but politicians and some of our profession are distant from classrooms and don't see what is effective, so wrong decisions are made. The CBI would be impressed with the graduates from Swedish vocational courses, and those Herefordshire Year 9s. They gained their GCSEs and a string of BTECs and are a better return for taxpayers' millions.

Mervyn Benford, Information officer, National Association for Small Schools.

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