Time out plan for unhappy teenagers

30th January 1998 at 00:00
Ministers are considering allowing 14-year-olds to spend one day a week in the workplace. Nicholas Pyke reports

Schools are being urged to free up the secondary curriculum so that disaffected teenagers can spend one day a week in the workplace.

Science, technology and languages will be optional subjects for some 14-year-olds under plans announced this week. This will be seen as a further step in dismantling the current national curriculum.

Two weeks ago the Government said that primary schools should be free to cut back on the arts and humanities in order to promote maths and reading.

Now ministers are hoping to encourage a similar flexibility for older pupils who might benefit from out-of-school learning. They will be given an extra 15 per cent of curriculum time, nearly one day a week, to pursue vocational courses.

This would mean dropping two out of three subjects from science, design and technology, and modern languages. English, maths, religious education and information technology will remain compulsory.

Schools already have the right to "disapply" individual pupils from the national curriculum, but few have taken the opportunity. The new proposals make the process simpler.

Announcing the plans, Dr Nick Tate, from the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, said they were aimed at a small number of pupils for whom "the traditional curriculum just hasn't worked in terms of switching them on to learning".

But, he said, the QCA will develop strict criteria to prevent the scheme becoming a soft option for pupils or for schools anxious to palm-off trouble makers.

Pupils studying in the workplace would still be expected to follow exam courses, most commonly the GNVQ.

The education junior minister, Estelle Morris, said that a significant minority of young people have become disaffected by the age of 14.

"We must re-engage those pupils who have lost interest or no longer see the relevance to them of the traditional curriculum," she said.

"Work-related learning benefits children of all abilities; this is not an option solely for pupils wanting to follow a vocational training path. Nor is it a soft option to appease the disaffected or truant pupils."

But Chris Pond, Labour MP for Gravesham, Kent, and former director of the Low Pay Unit, remained cautious. "There must be such a temptation to write off difficult children. If as a result they're going into jobs that are largely unregulated then there's a danger of exploitation."

The QCA is opening the proposals to consultation. Anyone wishing to take part should contact SMSR Ltd at Victoria House, 82 Beverley Rd, Hull, HU3 1YD or on 01482 211200.

* Geography and history are unlikely to be made compulsory subjects in future versions of the national curriculum, according to the Government's chief curriculum adviser.

But, said Dr Nicholas Tate, the humanities could prosper all the same as the secondary curriculum becomes less prescriptive.

The Qualifications and Curriculum Authority is currently undertaking a major review of the national curriculum.

Dr Tate, the QCA chief executive, told a London conference of geography and history teachers that radical changes are unlikely in the near future. But he suggested that schools are likely to gain more responsibility for their syllabuses.

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