Intellectually impoverished

The Telegraph reports an outspoken attack on new qualifications that maintain little academic rigour from a headteacher at one of the country's leading schools:

"The introduction of new-style courses - teaching children how to use English and mathematics in the work place - has been at the expense of academic rigour, said Bernice McCabe, head of the independent North London Collegiate School.


Mrs McCabe, whose school gained the best A-level results in the country in last year's Daily Telegraph league table, condemned the "woolliness" of the present system in which subjects were "relegated to the bottom of the pile".

It comes just days after it emerged that schoolchildren will be able to study travel brochures, magazines and biographies under a new-style "functional" GCSE. The course - an alternative to traditional English literature and English language - is designed to develop students' "understanding of language use in the real world".

But Mrs McCabe said: "By far the most serious consequence of this emphasis on functionality in education policy is that it may lead to the cultural and intellectual impoverishment of a generation of school children.

"Certainly one of the regular conclusions of our previous summer schools has been that pupils are encouraged by being challenged, that it is possible for them to enjoy 'difficult' and that problem-solving can be popular. By having high expectations and ensuring that all pupils, irrespective of their backgrounds, are taught the aspects of our subjects that we most value rather than those that are immediately accessible, we can raise standards."

If parents were asked to choose between easy but unambitious functional qualifications or schools that challenge their pupils and teach what is most valued, rather than what is easiest, there is every reason to think they would choose the latter.  That is what happens in private schools that rely on attracting parents who can take their money elsewhere and it isn't just the wealthy who have high hopes for their children.  By contrast, politicians expecting simplistic targets to be met encourage schools to take the path of least resistance.


Many of the differences between state and private schools aren't based on differences in resources but on how they are organised and their priorities.  Removing control of the education system from politicians, handing it back to teachers and parents, might see real change.

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