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Let pupils follow their own path

Sam loves anything to do with cars - apart from reading and writing about them! He spends weekends tinkering with an old car and can wax lyrical about the internal combustion engine. He says when he leaves school he will be a mechanic and I believe that, with support, he could make it. However, he struggles in the present system. He does not have the motivation, skills or parental support to achieve more than the basics academically, and certainly will not go to university. If he continues through to 18, he will have "failed" in the current academic exam-led system and may end up with the idea that he is useless at everything.

David Bell (TES, February 25), said the "historic divide between academic and vocational courses, which has ill-served many young people" was in danger of being perpetuated through continuing the current structure of GCSE and A-level. I think many young people are ill-served and even demeaned by the notion that unless they pass a clutch of GCSEs and A-levels, and go to university, they are second-class citizens; equally, if they leave school at 16 to pursue a trade, they are not valued as much as those who stay on and pursue an academic route.

Some of the youngsters I teach, who work extremely hard to master the basic skills but whose strengths lie elsewhere, would love the opportunity to try vocational courses leading to a trade.

Others, who thrive on learning in a more traditionally academic sense, need the challenge of the exam-led system to push them. These groups need different approaches to cater for their individual needs.

We need to ensure that we value the vocational route as much as the academic, not bind them up into the same package that will only result in neither group's needs being met. Instead of insisting that all children stay on at school past the age of 16, accept that some need the confidence they may achieve in the real world working and earning a living. I believe we would end up with far fewer disaffected youngsters expecting to live off the state because they do not think they can do anything else.

In the same TES, in an article about a dancing exam, a Royal Ballet spokesman said it all: "There's an audition involved. It's about talent.

You don't ask dancers to supply GCSEs."

Perhaps it is time we accepted that different routes into adulthood have equal value, rather than keep harping back on the perceived failings of the secondary modern system.

Sue Lambert is head of English and drama at Woodfield middle school, Redditch, Worcestershire. Are you an aggrieved leader? Why not write us a 400-word Sounding Off (we pay) and send it to

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