England Sets Sights On Secondary Schools

By Lynn Olson — May 05, 2004 2 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

England, like the United States, is wrestling with how to improve education for secondary students.

To that end, the Working Group on 14-19 Reform released its interim report in February. Known informally as the Tomlinson report—after its chairman, Mike Tomlinson, a former chief inspector of schools—its recommendations are meant to tackle England’s high dropout rate and burdensome testing regime for teenagers.

England has the fourth-highest dropout rate for students by age 17 of any country in the industrialized world. Nearly half of 16-year-olds leave school without having earned the exam grades required to prepare for college. Vocational courses and qualifications typically are viewed as poor relations.

“There is still an academic and vocational divide,” said Bob Jenkins, a deputy head teacher at the 1,700-student Castle School in Thornbury, a comprehensive secondary school.

Four years ago, the government introduced Curriculum 2000 to encourage teenagers to study more subjects in the first year of post-16 education, before specializing in an academic or vocational field. The changes split the A-level syllabuses required for entry into a university into multiple exam modules.

Many now view that strategy as a flop. Although it encouraged students to take more subjects in the first year of postcompulsory schooling, a majority opted for courses in related fields rather than branching out. Teachers also complained that the new curriculum put too great a testing burden on students.

Testing is “crucifying the enjoyment of education,” said Adrian Verwoert, the head teacher at the Castle School.

Confidence in the testing system eroded further in 2002—the first year of implementation of Curriculum 2000—when a grading fiasco led the final scores for almost 2,000 students to be revised upward.

The Tomlinson report proposes a more balanced curriculum for 14- to 19-year-olds that would ensure all young people have a strong foundation in mathematics, communications, and computer technology. Students also would have to complete an extended project that encouraged them to pursue an area of interest in depth.

‘Get On With It’

Beyond those main areas of study, the working group proposes a series of interlocking diplomas that would permit students to pursue their individual interests, by combining more general learning with increased academic or vocational specialization. Members of the Tomlinson group hope the new structure would be better at stretching and motivating young people.

Tony Neal, the head teacher of the 1,260- student De Aston School in Lincolnshire, said that, in principle, the notion of trying to find a more equitable line between academic and vocational coursework, and encouraging students to mix the two, is positive.

“The devil is in the details,” he added, “and it’s too early yet to know both what the implications for schools will be or how those changes will be perceived externally. Because whether it works will depend on its credibility.”

Others caution that, however good the ideas, teachers are tired of the almost constant turbulence.

“I don’t think we can cope with too much more big change again in the near future,” mused Denise Davies, a deputy head teacher at the 700-student St. Martin-in-the-Fields High School in London. “We actually need to be able to just settle down and get on with it.”


English-Language Learners Webinar Helping English-Learners Through Improved Parent Outreach: Strategies That Work
Communicating with families is key to helping students thrive – and that’s become even more apparent during a pandemic that’s upended student well-being and forced constant logistical changes in schools. Educators should pay particular attention
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Mathematics Webinar
Addressing Unfinished Learning in Math: Providing Tutoring at Scale
Most states as well as the federal government have landed on tutoring as a key strategy to address unfinished learning from the pandemic. Take math, for example. Studies have found that students lost more ground
Content provided by Yup Math Tutoring
Classroom Technology Webinar Building Better Blended Learning in K-12 Schools
The pandemic and the increasing use of technology in K-12 education it prompted has added renewed energy to the blended learning movement as most students are now learning in school buildings (and will likely continue

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Education Nearly a Million Kids Vaccinated in Week 1, White House Says
Experts say there are signs that it will be difficult to sustain the initial momentum.
4 min read
Leo Hahn, 11, gets the first shot of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine, Tuesday, Nov. 9, 2021, at the University of Washington Medical Center in Seattle. Last week, U.S. health officials gave the final signoff to Pfizer's kid-size COVID-19 shot, a milestone that opened a major expansion of the nation's vaccination campaign to children as young as 5. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
Education How Schools Are Getting Kids the COVID Shot, and Why Some Aren’t
Some district leaders say offering vaccine clinics, with the involvement of trusted school staff, is key to helping overcome hesitancy.
5 min read
A girl walks outside of a mobile vaccine unit after getting the first dose of her COVID-19 vaccine, outside P.S. 277, Friday, Nov. 5, 2021, in the Bronx borough of New York. (AP Photo/Eduardo Munoz Alvarez)
Education Biden Administration Urges Schools to Provide COVID-19 Shots, Information for Kids
The Biden administration is encouraging local school districts to host vaccine clinics for kids and information on benefits of the shots.
2 min read
President Joe Biden, and first lady Jill Biden walk to board Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, Saturday, Nov. 6, 2021. Biden is spending the weekend at his home in Rehoboth Beach, Del. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
Education Civil Rights Groups Sue Tennessee Over Law Against Transgender Student Athletes
The state law bars transgender athletes from playing public high school or middle school sports aligned with their gender identity.
3 min read
Amy Allen, the mother of an 8th grade transgender son, speaks after a Human Rights Campaign round table discussion on anti-transgender laws in Nashville, Tenn. on May 21, 2021.
Amy Allen, the mother of an 8th grade transgender son, speaks after a Human Rights Campaign round table discussion on anti-transgender laws in Nashville, Tenn. on May 21, 2021.
Mark Humphrey/AP