Soft spoken, but a big stick

12th April 1996 at 01:00
I reacted with profound dismay to the headline above Nicholas Pyke's report (TES, March 29) on the latest Sir Ron Dearing report. Its emphasis on the "no-hopers" is undoubtedly belied by the more fundamental and positive analysis conveyed in your inside coverage and editorial. Surely I cannot be alone in deploring such a populist focus?

For many years, some of us did hard, pioneering work, through the agencies of the National Union of Teachers and Schools' Council, on behalf of those large numbers of youngsters who had been failed by the elitism and exclusivity of the education system's fevered pursuit of academic success stories. I am glad to see there are still a few around, fighting that good fight. Perhaps, at long last, we are now seeing some light at the end of a long tunnel.

I experienced the same negative reaction, recently, over the simplistic remedies for the problems of the English education system, preferred by a prominent Labour spokesperson. His quite unsupported beliefs, advocating the pre-eminence of "Standards over structure" in the education system, indicate (surprisingly?) his total failure to understand what has been happening in many of the schools.

Maybe he was always in the 'top classes'? That might explain why he and others don't understand that school and schooling, despite the best efforts of many teachers, notwithstanding the Technical Vocational Educational Initiative and the national curriculum, remain irrelevant to the social and future work needs of many youngsters. For them, school is a place where you are doomed to fail - it is an inescapable part of the system. Sure, the staying-on rate has escalated beyond previous belief - but so, too, has the drop-out rate.

We were arguing then for an appropriate curriculum and its school, FE and work-place support structure, together with the necessary assessment procedures which would result in an integrated 14-19, across-the-board, provision for all youngsters. Now, after all these years of waiting, it looks as though Sir Ron Dearing has come up with a framework that will allow that .

My erstwhile friends, like me, must be overjoyed now that Sir Ron seems not only to share our early concerns but to have been sufficiently influential as to make things start to happen. Yet, you are doing no favours to the demotivated and underachievers by claiming that the 16-19 review is primarily for them.

On their behalf directly, and because of their implications for the future well-being of this country, the distress of the quietly-spoken Sir Ron shouts loud from the pages of his report.

JACK CHAMBERS National Union of Teachers' past president

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