Stuck in the 50s

29th June 2007 at 01:00
It amazes me how previous knowledge about education can slip into limbo. In the 1950s, there was much research to show that working-class pupils - particularly boys - were the lowest achievers.

In part, this led to the creation of comprehensives, with the idea that they would provide longer opportunities for pupils to show their abilities and move through the spheres of education, rather than being labelled as failures and consigned to secondary moderns. The fact that comprehensives never addressed this issue and separated pupils by perceived ability at an early age has largely been ignored.

The increasing impact of large numbers of ethnic-minority pupils overtook schools and pushed the problems of working-class pupils into the background, creating even greater underachievement in this group. And now the Joseph Rowntree "research" has found that the issue, identified more than 50 years ago, still exists.

Until schools recognise the need to delay segregation and become more aware of its self-fulfilling prophetic nature, the situation will remain, further generations of pupils will not achieve their potential and many will remain unemployable. Future research will occupy academics, and they will continue to discover what thinking educationists have always known.

It is time for a national debate to address these issues so that they do not sink into limbo for another 50 years.

George Mitchell

(Retired headteacher and registered inspector)

Wyke, Bradford

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