Frank Field MP
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Local Blog: Going back to school

Jeff Green, the Tory leader in Wirral, has launched what some people may want to see as an attack on establishing new academies in Birkenhead. There are a number of people with vested interests who, it seems to me, are prepared to defend the indefensible even to the point of metaphorically being taken to the stake.

The facts are pretty plain. Is it unreasonable to expect that, after twelve years of tax-payers' investment, at least 95% of our young people should leave secondary school with minimum leaving requirements? I do not think so.

Now compare that eminently reasonable objective with the facts. Despite heroic efforts by teachers, and the heroic support of some parents, no state school in Birkenhead achieves half that target.

Indeed, all too many pupils leave hardly able to read and write.

Clearly there is something wrong with the education we offer many young people in Birkenhead - and elsewhere.

All our schools have a national syllabus that mimics an academic grammar school education. That is not a suitable education for perhaps the majority of young people.

The advent of the academies will allow some schools to offer what we have failed to do since the 1944 Education Act promised a tripartite system - a pukka technical education. All academies will be able to adapt the national curriculum to local needs.

Now take the actual results of Birkenhead schools and transfer the results to imaginary hospitals. Here we would have a success rate for operations of 23%, 26%, 37% and 44%.

What would the response be for, say, hospitals where 80% of patients were maimed or died during an operation? We would demand that they were closed that day.

So why have we accepted an education system which has a similar maiming rate for our young people? We clearly need to bring back to the drawing board our idea of schooling.

That is what the new academies will offer us in Birkenhead.

So back to Jeff Green. My guess is that his policy is now to oppose anything the ruling Labour coalition proposes up until next year's local elections. His strategy is nothing to do with me.

But I make a plea to him not to play those party politics with the future of young people in Birkenhead and beyond. Every political strategy is worth an exception. And we will get our minimum success rates up towards that 95% mark all the more quickly if everybody puts their shoulder to the wheel. And Mr. Green is too important a person not to help in this great endeavour.
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