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Monday, May 22, 2006 

Academies r shit.

Well, who would have thought it? The government's cure-all for failing inner city bog standard comprehensives, are themselves, failing. According to a study by Terry Wrigley, a senior lecturer at Edinburgh University, the number of pupils that have managed to achieve 5 GCSEs at A*-C has improved by a whopping 0.2% - which those kind people at the Guardian have averaged out to the equivalent of 3 pupils - across the first 11 academies.

Now, we shouldn't really be cynical. That's 3 more students that have had their life chances dramatically improved. The academies themselves are relatively new, and just having a new building isn't going to change bad teaching, behaviour or leadership problems that have built up over a number of years. However much opprobrium the disingenuous idea of giving a private company or grouping a major influence on the curriculum is for a sum which a number of them have not even paid, they deserve to be given a slightly longer chance. But wait! That isn't the worst of it, oh no. A spokesman tried to spin the results by saying the following:

the academies' GCSE results were "outstripping" those of their predecessor schools, adding that if English and maths were not included there had been an 8 percentage point rise in those getting five good GCSEs.

Yep, that's right, if you exclude those throwaway unnecessary subjects like English and Maths, then err, there's a whole 8% increase in those getting five "good" GCSEs. Perhaps the spokesman, despite working for the Department of Education, doesn't realise that English and Maths are 2 of the 3 core GCSE subjects which every student has to take, the other being Science. Then again, when those in charge already have the feeling that the kids they're teaching might well be thick, what's the point of teaching them English and Maths? All they're going to do is stack shelves and work the tills at Tesco's, where no brain power is required whatsoever. It's better that way, as they're less likely to question the amount they're getting paid as well. It seems this may well actually be what they're doing:
some academies were diverting children away from GCSEs to boost their standing in school league tables. The study found that many children had been switched from taking separate subjects at GCSE to the vocational GNVQ qualification, which counts as four GCSEs in government tables.

Indeed, shortly before Obsolete left its bog-standard comprehensive behind, all the students which were doing poorly or were evaluated to do poorly at the Key Stage 4 SATs were encouraged to take on GNVQs instead of GCSEs in their 10th year. While for some this was better than them just getting even more disillusioned and disgruntled in the more "academic" classes, there was also a reasonable amount of pressure for them to do it whether they liked it or not, purely because it helped the schools' results in the consequent league tables, and stopped the school from falling into "failing" status. As Terry Wrigley goes on:

"There seems to be something important going on here," he said. "Of course we should value vocational as well as academic learning, but false equivalents simply let down the most vulnerable young people. It may be in the school's short term interests, and the government's, to improve exam statistics in this way. However, as soon as an individual applies for a job or university place, they will face problems. How many employers regard a GNVQ in computing plus a C in art as equal to five good GCSEs in different subjects, especially if you include English and maths?"

According to Mr Wrigley the proportion of children taking GNVQ qualification has risen from 13% at the predecessor schools to around 52% at the academies.

And there lies the problem. There has undoubtedly been a lack of respect for vocational qualifications in Britain for a number of years, something that has to change. For the many the boundaries of academic schooling are both constricting and leading many to think of themselves of failures. In most places the 11+, which had done the same to children year after year, has been replaced with another system where it still fails, but at an older age. This is not to say that children should be forced into vocational subjects if they appear to be performing poorly in the likes of English and Maths. That has just as damaging repercussions at the above. There are plenty of pupils who flourish in their subjects later in life than others. Yet for many who would rather be doing something "hands on", although not in the John Prescott sense of the term, there are few opportunities. It's something which the likes of the CBI, that continues to decry poor communication and mathematical knowledge of those who leave school, both at 16 and 18, should do something about, rather than continuing to moan while doing nothing.

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