Pupils learn about Sixties education the hard way

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The Independent Online

For those who champion the merits of a traditional education, the call for a return to grammar schools is never far away. But those who make the loudest calls do not appear to have a similar fondness for the secondary modern schools that took the pupils they rejected.

For those who champion the merits of a traditional education, the call for a return to grammar schools is never far away. But those who make the loudest calls do not appear to have a similar fondness for the secondary modern schools that took the pupils they rejected.

Next week, a television documentary will attempt to show what lessons today's schools can learn from those secondary moderns of the 1960s, which - the documentary makers recall - taught around 71 per cent of all pupils at the time.

That'll Teach 'Em Too, a five-part series to be screened at 9pm on Channel Four from Tuesday, has taken 30 teenagers (15 boys and 15 girls) from schools around the country.

The children, all predicted to get C, D or E-grade passes at GCSE this summer, and therefore the kind of pupils who may have sat CSEs had they been educated in the 1960s, have been transported back in time to a typical secondary modern. For three weeks, they have been grappling with a rigid syllabus of old-fashioned vocational education.

The boys have been learning how to make teapot stands and stools in woodwork lessons, while the girls learn cookery, cleaning and how to buy the cheapest cuts of meat, in domestic science lessons.

It was a rigidly sexist era, which has led to complaints from some of the girls that they were being groomed to become "superhousewives". For the pupils, though, it has highlighted the lack of practical work when they study vocational subjects - such as leisure and tourism - at their own schools.

The documentary follows an earlier series in which the producers, TwentyTwenty, also took 30 pupils - this time high-flyers, back to a traditional grammar school to see how they fared with a strict 0-level syllabus. The answer was not well. Reaction to the latest documentary is awaited with interest.

Simon Rockell, the producer of the series, and Richard Fawcett, head of the fictitious Hope Green Secondary Modern, believe lessons can be learnt from the more practical approach. "What we're doing is raising issues," said Mr Rockell, a former teacher.

"Personally, I feel that the 11-plus was a pernicious, unjust, elitist exam. I don't think we want to go back to the old tripartite era of grammar, secondary modern and technical schools - but there are issues that can be learnt as we try to produce practical and vocational qualifications that are valued by the student, by society and by employers."

He believes the programmewill help the former chief schools inspector Mike Tomlinson as he puts the finishing touches to his shake-up of the exam system for ministers. High-quality vocational education is high on his agenda.

In order to re-create the atmosphere of the times, the "pupils" of Hope Green Secondary Modern had to abandon their thongs and shades and hide their tattoos. Long-haired boys were given a short back and sides and girls were told they must wear their hair in plaits. Both were then handed their new school uniforms.

Richard Fawcett believes their time at Hope Green will not be wasted. "If you say 'secondary modern' people immediately think that pupils had failed. Actually, though, people in those schools were really batting hard for their pupils."

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