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Joan Sallis Answers your questions

As a governor I am uncomfortable about sending less able students in our comprehensive off for work experience part-time. I had a poor background and I know from my parents how schooling after 14 was a privilege as well as a means of escaping poor jobs. (My grandparents had even less choice: it was the shipyards or "service".) Where I live now there is more opportunity and plenty of work of all kinds, but I thought the national curriculum would give the same chance to everybody: not just the 3Rs but science, languages, music. Are we slipping back?

I confess I have had the same feelings about providing a broad curriculum for all, but they have been changed by experience.

I now see that struggling with too heavy a curriculum can be dispiriting and isolating rather than equalising, especially in a school with a wide ability range that tries to give every child experience of success. (I remember my father quoting his old headmaster who said every child needed to be good at something and if you didn't give it to them they might choose spitting!).

This week I met students on extended work experience, and their self-confidence is amazing. The staff say the remarkable thing is not only their pride in doing something successful but their behaviour and improvement in coping with school subjects.

There are conditions that must be satisfied of course before we separate students in this way. All students must do work experience, not just a less able group (although the latter will do it more extensively. The group doing longer work placement must not be second-best, and placements must be monitored carefully. They must be recognised (there are now prizes for them in our school). They must be helped to get some GCSEs. The curriculum doors must remain open to any talent whatever. For me, above all, they must get the chance to do and excel in sports, in drama, music and art, with success given as much prominence as exam results.

Please keep requests for private replies to a minimum. Questions should be sent to The TES, Admiral House, 66-68 East Smithfield, London E1W 1BX, fax 0171 782 32023205, or see governorsask_the_expert

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