Academic curriculum 'not appropriate' for all: Gove's Mossbourne 'hero' challenges him over review

4th February 2011 at 00:00

A feted academy head has contradicted the education secretary who regards him as "a hero" by warning that not all pupils are suited to an academic curriculum.

Sir Michael Wilshaw, head of Mossbourne Academy, has publicly pleaded with the Government to include a "technical and craft-based curriculum option" in its national curriculum review.

"There will always be a proportion of children in non-selective schools - and there are in my school certainly - for whom an academic curriculum is not appropriate," said the head of the academy in Hackney, east London, currently celebrating Oxbridge offers for 10 pupils.

But education secretary Michael Gove, who has pledged to "restore academic rigour" to the national curriculum, rejected the idea that the result might not be suited to all pupils.

"The thing that most annoys me about education is the automatic assumption that the national curriculum is only there for a minority," he said.

"It is a hangover from the past where it was thought that a very, very limited number of people go to university and a limited number of people do GCSEs and A-levels. To think like that is just absolute rubbish. It is patronising."

Believing that pupils - apart from those with learning difficulties - were unsuited to academic lessons had held the country back, Mr Gove said.

Sir Michael made his call for a "technical" option at the launch of the curriculum review, where the head said he "heartily endorsed" its principles but called for provision to be made for pupils unsuited to an academic curriculum.

"What we have had up to now is a watered down academic curriculum dressed up as something vocational," said Sir Michael. "It has not been good enough and it is not serving students well.

"The review should consider a root-and-branch reform of vocational qualifications which have rigour and relevance to young people who want to pursue a technical and craft-based curriculum option."

His comments came as former Labour education secretary Baroness Morris argued in The Guardian that Coalition ministers' view of the curriculum was too narrow.

"Team games are the only sort of sport that matters; traditional subjects are better than new areas of study; assessment should always be at the end of the course; vocational subjects matter less than academic ones," she wrote.

"There is little appreciation of ... social sciences or religious education, of applied subjects such as engineering, or vocational courses. Perhaps most worrying, the skills and knowledge needed to thrive in a technological world don't seem to get a mention."

When it was pointed out to Mr Gove that Sir Michael had challenged him to consider vocational education as part of the curriculum review, the education secretary said a separate inquiry into vocational education was being carried out by Professor Alison Wolf.

BTECs - All in the mix

Even the most academically gifted students should experience vocational learning alongside traditional subjects, according to the company behind BTEC qualifications.

Pearson UK president Rod Bristow told The TES it was important for all students to "gain some practical experience of work and the options ahead of them" in their schooling.

He welcomed the introduction of the English Baccalaureate, but said students would benefit from taking a vocational course alongside it.

"It's important not to characterise education in one extreme or the other," he said. "Some want to do practical and educational learning as well as academic ... It's important that both kinds of learning are embraced in the system."

Pearson owns exam board Edexcel, which offers vocational BTECs as well as traditional academic exams.

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