Technical schools 'will lead to divisions'

Speakers at a teachers union conference have voiced fears that new-style technical schools to teach youngsters trades will lead to divisions in the schools system.

Pupils could effectively be selected by assumptions about their abilities and previous achievement, the National Union of Teachers (NUT) said.

And they raised concerns that youngsters are being pushed into taking either academic or vocational qualifications at the age of 14, which may not suit their abilities or aspirations, the NUT said.

There will be a two-tier system which will lead to a "fractured" society in which "the practical people are split from the clever people", delegates at the NUT's annual conference in Liverpool said.

Schools Secretary Ed Balls announced last week that the first in a network of University Technical Colleges (UTCs) for 14 to 19-year-olds will open in 2012.

Plans for the network were proposed by former Conservative education secretary Lord Baker and the late Lord Dearing.

Sponsored by Aston University, the 600-pupil college will specialise in engineering and manufacturing.

The Tories have pledged to set up technical schools across England, starting in the 12 biggest cities.

Technical schools began to be established after the Second World War, but faded out in the 1950s. The NUT argued that their re-introduction is a return to a "discredited" policy.

Former NUT president Baljeet Ghale told delegates: "I speak with alarm about the separate paths which students are being channelled into at the age of 14, either vocational or academic.

"There is a push from local authorities that schools offer vocational courses not, it seems to me, because it's good for the young people we teach, but because these courses are part of the Government's agenda to create yet another kind of school.

"In fact both the Labour Government and the Conservative opposition envisage the creation of new types of institution designed only to meet the needs of specific groups of learners, such as technical schools.

"We need to be extremely concerned about this. Going back to an already discredited policy which we had decades ago can only lead to a difference in value between different types of institution."

Students such as those with special needs, challenging students or those unlikely to get five good GCSEs will be the losers, she said.

"Learners from some backgrounds could be stereotyped based on their achievement up to the end of Key Stage 3 (age 14) and selected for certain institutions and types of courses which may not best meet their needs or aspirations and which will segregate pupils socially."

NUT head of education John Bangs said there were concerns about new technical schools effectively leading to selection by the back door.

"There is a real fear about a move towards selection by division, selection by direction and selection by assumption, with these routes being mapped out for the kids forevermore."

Claire Mills, a delegate from Leicestershire, told the conference: "A fractured two-tiered system of qualifications can only lead to a fractured two-tier society in which, to put it in layman's terms, the practical people are split from the clever people.

"We all know that this outdated method which historically keeps working class people in vocational manual jobs and the middle class in their professional roles is wrong."

Delegates passed a resolution instructing the union to campaign against "any attempts to introduce selection of pupils at 14" and for a system of vocational education which has equal status to academic qualifications.

A spokesman for the Department for Children, Schools and Families said: "This won't create a two-tier system - the diploma is about bridging the age-old and damaging divide between vocational and academic education.

"All UTC students will study the broad mainstream curriculum up to 14 and then sit GCSEs, alongside more specialised courses, so they have a breadth of qualifications under their belts."

Shadow schools secretary Michael Gove said: "For generations Britain has failed to provide high quality vocational education to match other nations like Germany or Singapore. A Conservative government would set up prestigious new schools offering a high quality technical education to any child who wanted it. They would not be selective but they would offer high quality academic and vocational qualifications for students preparing for the world of work."

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