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Exclusive with Brooke House 6th Form Principal

With A-level results still potent in many minds, FE News invited Ken Warman, formerly Director at Tower Hamlets College, East London, to share his views.

“The annual cycle of news in post-16 education is boringly predictable. The A-level results come out followed by a “debate” about whether standards are falling. An older generation preens itself on the fact that its opinion-formers achieved well in a more exclusive and, of course, more intellectually rigorous examination. Then a couple of employers arrive to tell us that many of those who have been successful at A-level are unemployable (not like in our day, old bean).

“This is not a debate but a constricted exchange of prejudice and anecdote. It is also a conflation of a concern about trends in educational standards and about whether A-levels are preparing people for work. Let’s go back 30 years. Let’s assume that A-level exams were far harder and a better filter for university entrance. Were those who sat, say, a harder History paper better prepared for work? Even more, were the beneficiaries of the filter skilled for work after three years in academia? If they ended up composing elegant memoranda in the Foreign Office, then they probably were but as for the rest”¦

“Surely, what we must be saying is that we ought to be preparing our young people for a fulfilling rounded life. This should involve preparation for further study and (not or) for entry into employment. We all need the skills for work but these must be general: the so-called “soft skills”. It is a paradox that all commentators tell us that, given the pace of technological and economic development, the idea of a career, never mind a job, for life is outmoded. Yet we try and push (some) young people into a vocational straitjacket at an increasingly early age. Others (designated, on the light bulb theory of education as “bright”) can learn to think and write fluently and, therefore, in future years lord it over our vocational drones.

“Surely, employers, in whatever sector, need people who can present themselves well, work independently and with others, who can display initiative and who can be adaptable during the course of a day or a working life. All of our young people should be developing these qualities. The question is how to make these integral to the curriculum and how to accredit these broad qualities (not narrow skills).

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“Did someone mention the Tomlinson Diploma?”

Ken Warman, Principal.

Brooke House 6th Form College, Hackney, East London.

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