From education to employment

Columnist for Glasgow’s Evening Times, Sam Clarke, explains

Seriously, when did you last check Yellow Pages for a brain surgeon? Ah, but a plumber … different story there, isn”t it?

Okay, so we stand as good a chance of seeing one as the other but that’s not my point, nor was it Jack McConnells (First Minister for Scotland). [His] vision is for up to 100 Skills Academies to give switched-off teenagers practical training in old-fashioned, down, dirty and essential trades.

In one speech he has finally nailed the lie of comprehensive education and, I hope, killed off a 40-year-long, flawed experiment. The price was high: slovenly, ill-disciplined, ill-educated, disrespectful neds on the streets – a couple of generations failed by their so-called betters and gulled by air-head academics who thought equal opportunity and equality were one and the same.

Jack couldnt bring himself to say the S word, he is a former teacher and to recant would be heresy, but switch skills academies for streaming and what you get isnt elitism, but pragmatism.

If the notion seems familiar, it should.

In my teenage years they were called junior secondaries and tech colleges. In theory, the comprehensive system is an egalitarian utopia where everyone is equal in the eyes of the teacher.

The reality is numpties mixed with swots to the detriment of both; youngsters with real academic ability held back while those who struggle to count their toes become disillusioned and resentful.

Oh … and it might also explain the numbers of teachers who suffer stress. Streaming worked: it recognised that youngsters have different abilities and channelled their energies appropriately – without creating artificial barriers. Come 4th year, with decent results, pupils could switch to senior secondaries if they wished and move on to Highers.

If they chose to leave school, apprenticeships or colleges were there for them – not jumped up tech colleges posing as universities and devaluing degrees.

The problems started when “experts” decided the tiered system labelled children as failures and conned parents into thinking the same. I remember a particularly fiery night at my local primarys PTA in the 1990s after the Tories introduced national testing.

It didn”t go down well when I suggested that tests didn”t make children successes or failure – used properly they set a benchmark and revealed strengths and weaknesses which could be acted upon early. Any branding belonged to parents who stupidly stigmatised their own kids on the basis of an arithmetic test.

Yes, I was howled down – but I was right and successive Governments, regardless of hue, have agreed. If they didn”t, they would have stopped interfering long ago.

But let me make a prediction now: Skills academies will never leave Jack’s speechwriter’s page. The £100million promised is nothing more than political pie-in-the-sky, a juicy titbit to kick-off Holyrood campaigning: tacky electioneering at its worst.

And it will, I also predict, come back to haunt Jack McConnell and his ilk … just when they need the Yellow Pages most.

Sam Clarke, Online Editor, Glasgow Evening Times:

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