Letter: School inspectors fail the test

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Sir: While I am glad that education features so highly on the electoral agendas of both main parties, I remain uneasy concerning their ability to get to the heart of the problems that bedevil our schools.

Everyone blames the Sixties. However, there wasn't much wrong with the liberalism of that era; it wasn't "free expression" that started the rot; rather, mismanagement of the raising of the school-leaving age.

I belong to the last generation which had the option of leaving school at 15. I chose not to, but some of my less academic friends were persuaded to stay on by the promise of exciting vocational courses. The bait was tempting: a couple of rusty pre-war cars appeared outside the metalwork shop, and friends were assured that they would be given the chance to restore them, and even drive them round the playing field.

It may have happened once, but not thereafter. Stroppy "fourth-year leavers" simply became unteachable "fifth-year leavers". When I started teaching in the mid-Seventies I was horrified to discover that they were all being forced through the same academic mill, regardless of aptitude. The old- style CSE, which had been quite properly conceived as the non-academic equivalent of the GCE, had come to be regarded (by schools and employers alike) as an inferior qualification.

Children who were once not expected to try for the glittering prizes of academia are now penalised for failing to win them, thus creating the false impression that standards are falling.