'Scandal' of elitism still exists, says chief schools inspector

The chief schools inspector David Bell yesterday lashed out at the "scandal" of the UK secondary education system, which he claimed catered for the few and not the many.

Speaking at a seminar in London organised by the Social Market Foundation, Mr Bell said: "It is the scandal of the British education system that we have for many years failed to provide a system that meets the needs of all. English education has always done quite well at the top for [those] who go on to higher education but we can't run an education system just for 40 to 50 per cent of young people to go on to university."

He said that the shake-up proposed in a government inquiry by Mike Tomlinson, his predecessor at Ofsted, was "the right direction to travel". Mr Tomlinson is proposing a broader sixth-form curriculum, replacing existing GCSEs and A-levels with a new diploma.

"I think we're looking at the end of the decade before we undertake a change because there were so many difficulties with the 2000 change," he said, referring to the introduction of the new AS-level exam. "In many ways, we made a false start then. We didn't get what we wanted because of the speed of implementation."

Mr Bell went on to warn of the dangers of new vocational qualifications being seen as a way of "keeping the bad lads amused".

"Bad lads are an important feature of our education system and we have quite a lot to do to reconnect them with education," he said. "However, vocational education is not just something that will keep the bad lads amused. It is about putting forward something that will meet the needs of the British economy."

In answer to questions, Mr Bell also called for schools to be given more powers to introduce performance-related pay for teachers. "I would want to increase the flexibility of governors to reward teachers for what they do," he said.

Mr Bell said that heads knew who their best teachers were, but were reluctant to reward them because to do so would sow seeds of discontent in the staff room. He also warned that satisfactory teaching was no longer good enough to meet the Government's drive to raise standards.

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