Pupils are afraid of choosing too early

3rd September 2004 at 01:00
Poll shows up pupils' concern over specialisation and their dissatisfaction with Labour, reports Michael Shaw

Pupils fear they are specialising in subjects too early, research commissioned by the Department for Education and Skills suggests.

The finding comes as the Government pushes to make all secondary schools into either specialist colleges or academies, both of which must give extra attention to a chosen subject.

The poll of 663 teenagers by the National Centre for Social Research found 44 per cent agreed that "on the whole pupils are too young when they have to decide which subjects to specialise in".

A smaller proportion, 35 per cent, said they disagreed with the statement and 19 per cent said they were not sure.

The Young People's Social Attitudes survey also found that, unlike adults, the 12 to 19-year-olds questioned were overwhelmingly opposed to academic selection by schools.

Two-thirds of the pupils said they felt all children should go to the same kind of secondary school no matter how well or badly they did at primary school. Fewer than half of adults shared this view.

Brian Wills-Pope, chairman of the National Grammar Schools Association, dismissed the pupils' opposition to selection, saying that the survey finding was not of value. Some would oppose grammar schools because they had failed to get into them, he said.

The survey also found that nearly half of the young people questioned said pupils at their school had threatened teachers. Nine per cent said that this behaviour occurred often, but the proportion reporting that teachers at their school had been threatened fell from 51 to 48 per cent between 1994 and 2003. However, the report said the decrease was too small.

"Although most young people did not report teachers having been threatened at their school, there was still a high number who did, particularly among those who had attended state schools. This clearly gives ground for concern."

The most radical changes in pupils' attitudes over the decade involved politics, and indicate growing dissatisfaction with the Labour party.

While Labour was popular with young voters before coming to power in 1997, it has since alienated many teenagers over university tuition fees and its support of the war in Iraq.

The proportion of pupils saying they could identify a political party they felt close to or would support dropped from two-thirds in 1994 to one-third in 2003.

The report said: "This suggests a quite considerable disenchantment with the world of British party politics, possibly in response to the events leading up to the war in Iraq (which began three months before the survey fieldwork took place)."

The proportion expressing "no interest at all" in politics also increased over the last decade from just over a quarter to more than a third.

The Specialist Schools Trust rejected the suggestion that their member schools might be encouraging pupils to specialise too early. A spokesman stressed that the schools continued to offer a broad curriculum, even if they were given extra funding for a particular subject.

Young People in Britain: the attitudes and experiences of 12-19-year-olds is at www.dfes.gov.uk

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