Young people let down by education system

weldingHalf of all teenagers are failed by a school system which forces them to pursue academic studies, a landmark report says today. Hundreds of thousands of youngsters better suited to practical work leave with poor qualifications because their skills go unrecognised. Woodwork, metalwork and home economics have all but disappeared while geography field-work and science experiments are in decline, the six-year investigation concludes. The Oxford-based Nuffield Review, the most comprehensive study of secondary education in 50 years, found those who are better suited to 'learning by doing' are simply not catered for. Instead, a culture of testing has brought about a narrow focus on written exams at GCSE and A-level. This has consigned a generation of pupils to an 'impoverished' education. In a damning indictment, the study said school attainment remained 'low' despite unprecedented investment in education. The Government's school diplomas covering 14 industry areas do little to improve matters, because they put greater emphasis on 'learning about the world of work' than on practical learning, the review warns. It says the entire system needs to be overhauled because it has suffered years of tinkering and piecemeal changes. Universities now have so little confidence in A-levels that 45 are setting their own admissions tests to help them distinguish between the most able candidates. Professor Richard Pring, who led the review team of academics from Oxford, London's Institute of Education and Cardiff University, said concern about the achievement of young people was 'not new'. 'That bottom half is still a cause for concern,' he said. 'So many young people leave school inadequately prepared for further study or training.' He pointed out that around half of 16-year-olds fail to achieve five good GCSEs, including English and maths - the Government's yardstick of secondary school achievement. Around one in ten ended up classified as 'Neets' - not in education, employment or training. 'A lot of those have been told they are failures for about ten years,' Professor Pring said. A generation ago, hands-on lessons were 'very much part of the learning experience at school', he said. But the introduction of the national curriculum in 1988 had hastened the 'demise' of practical learning. 'We now have a rather narrow view of success in learning,' he said. 'A great many young people achieve quite a lot in other areas which are equally valid and don't get recognised.' Many might benefit-from practical training in crafts, engineering, hairdressing, mechanics and catering. Apprenticeships should also be promoted more widely as an alternative to university, he added. His review concludes: 'There is not the progress which one might expect from so much effort and investment. 'The review believed that a tradition of learning based on practical engagement has been lost in schools, reflected in the near demise of woodwork, metalwork and home economics, in the decline of field-work in geography, in less experimental approaches to science (caused partly by assessment almost exclusively through written examination), and in the decline of work-based learning and employer-related apprenticeships.

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