What Tomlinson missed

5th November 2004 at 00:00
I am concerned that most of the debate about the Tomlinson report on 14 to 19 learning has been about educational structures rather than content.

Students do not study structures, they study subjects. They want subjects that are useful and which interest them.

The recent actions of the AQA exam board in dropping, without any consultation with the relevant communities, a raft of GCSE and some A-level subjects, and the proposals by SQA in Scotland to drop a wide range of Standard Grade subjects and Highers should act as a wake-up call to the education community.

Tomlinson's emphasis on basic skills is welcome but there has been little consideration of what subjects students should be entitled to study at 14-plus.

Creating useful workers for the economy is not the only purpose of education at 14-plus. There is also the need to enable students to fulfil their dreams, potential and desires; to develop into well-rounded individuals. For this, they will need access to a varied range of subjects within whatever structure exists.

While a great deal of time and trouble is being spent on creating new structures, it seems that the Government is happy to let content be determined by commercial awarding bodies with one eye (or even both eyes) on the accountants rather than the needs of students.

The response from ministers and the QCA to the axing of subjects by AQA has been abject surrender. They plead that they have no powers to determine what subjects are offered by awarding bodies.

It will be interesting to see if they will remain happy to plead this once implementation of the diploma begins. If they are happy to let content be decided on commercial whim, who then oversees the curriculum at 14-plus?

Who will guarantee the balance between academic and vocational subjects? Who will see to it that students have a decent choice of options rather than the same, tired old menu of subjects long past their sell-by date?

The Historical Association is currently undertaking an exciting project to develop new thinking on what history is taught at 14-19. Who will see that this thinking is put into practice?

Will the QCA fulfil its moral responsibilities rather than hide behind a plea of "we do not have the power"? More importantly perhaps, what will be the role of the existing awarding bodies in implementing any diploma? Why are we so content to have such bodies as commercially independent entities with little responsibility towards the community they serve?

These are parts of the debate about the Tomlinson report that I await with interest. Sadly, we are being led into structural blind alleys rather than the meatier highways of what students actually will be studying.

Don Henson Education officer Council for British Archaeology St Mary's House, 66 Bootham, York

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