Folly on end of a phone

12th December 2003 at 00:00
The recent suggestion by Jack McConnell for expanding vocational training in secondary schools (TESS November 7) offers further opportunities for those seeking to degrade the curriculum and reduce prospects for pupils.

In recent years, schools have been recast as the key economic tool by all of the major political parties. The core skills in schools, from working with others to computer literacy, are tied to the sound bites of the new economy, whether it is global or knowledge. The measure of national economic prosperity is seen in the certificates and results of school pupils.

The folly behind such thinking is rarely exposed. While it is the rational act of individuals to give themselves a competitive edge in the job market through gaining a good set of results, government intervention in education to bolster the economy has questionable support at best.

Much is lost in schools, though, through introducing vocational training and chasing market indices. The core role of taking pupils through a rigorous, broad curriculum is the best preparation for their adult lives.

The route towards examination is a transformative experience where pupils have to develop the personal discipline and application required to succeed in the courses they take. The cumulative experience seeks to equip pupils with the ability to pick up the skills required to start any task, be it practical or intellectual.

Indeed it is the academic nature of the curriculum that tests the pupils and develops these skills. As a computing teacher, I understand that the knowledge of how to operate Microsoft Word is useful for writing a report but it is not on a par with the ability to write the report itself.

Deconstructing a novel or understanding a formula are above the experience of being in a call centre, hairdressing salon or factory floor.

A relevant curriculum, aimed at the banal life of a teenager, is irrelevant for his or her current education and the best development of their future opportunities.

At the same time, introducing vocational training makes a mockery of the skills that must be developed to perform a trade successfully. How can vocational training at school prepare pupils for jobs outside school? Nobody can say that vocational training at school will do anything but parody the real thing.

For schools, though, it provides an outlet for those pupils who are considered too difficult to deal with. The education on offer to pupils can be split between those considered academic and those considered practical, or the working class pupils who are not expected to do very much or have their expectations challenged.

The school curriculum is not the 'straitjacket' that Jack McConnell remembers from his teaching days but is the key to opening up opportunities. It is by rising to the challenge that pupils acquire the knowledge and skills they need for life after school, and it is the responsibility of teachers to support pupils and not shirk from it.

Vocational training should be kept out of schools.

Stuart Baird Computing Department Falkirk High

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