Tomlinson and education. It’s still with us.

As part of her argument about what is needed to restore our Universities to their world-class standing, Mary Warnock,writing [link] in today’s edition of the Observer, says that the government missed out on an opportunity to shake up the whole education system when it failed to implement the recommendations of the Tomlinson report.  

There is a mismatch within educational policy between the desire to make education the means by which pupils may be enabled to earn their living in a way that uses their abilities and contributes to the country’s economy and the desire to turn more of them than ever before into graduates. The silliest thing Tony Blair ever said was that 50 per cent of the school population should go on to university. The worst mistake that he, or his educational advisers, ever made was to reject the Tomlinson recommendations for the education of 14- to 19-year-olds.

However difficult and slow they would have been to implement, if they had been accepted, they would have brought one school-leaving certificate, which would have recorded achievement in either wholly academic and theoretical or wholly practical subjects, or a mixture of the two.

Those who chose the wholly practical course would leave school already virtually apprentices, used to skilled work and capable of increasing their skills; those who chose the theoretical alternative would have passed academic examinations that properly prepared them for university. Different universities could make their own decisions about academic or ‘mixed’ applicants, depending on their teaching and research strengths. (It might even have turned out that some institutions of higher education would proudly go back to calling themselves polytechnics.)

The Tomlinson report, it seemed to me at the time, and it still seems to me, did take account of the fact that not all came into education with the with the same skills and aptitudes, and that anybody who did even a little joined up thinking should be doing is developing them in those areas in which they showed some skill and for which they showed the greatest aptitude. Of course, this government has a long history of ignoring joined-up thinking, especially when it comes into conflict with fondly held beliefs and prejudices.  

** The Tomlinson Report

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