Frank Field MP
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Academies - Part 1

Some Birkenhead GCSE results are deeply disturbing - as some are in most other areas of the country. I do not believe this is because young people have suddenly become thick. Nor do I believe it is because the teaching profession has collapsed.

It would be sensible to consider a number of forces at work - the rise of chaotically run families would certainly deserve more than a mention.

But central is how schools are organised and what they are allowed to teach. The biggest cause of our present discontent lies here. The 1944 Education Act proposed a tripartite system of Secondary Education that was never implemented. Grammar schools flourished, but technical schools were notable by their absence.

A binary system should have centred on an expansion of grammar schools and a flourishing of pucker technical schools. Instead, grammar schools were frozen like Lot's wife and the vast majority of us were herded into secondary modern schools that, by and large, offered a watered-down grammar school education. Even Plato couldn't have made this system work.

Here is the route of our desperately poor examination results. We don't cater for different forms of excellence so this is where our proposed academy schools come in.

Our proposal is to close Rock Ferry, Park and Ridgeway High schools and open a new all boys academy and a new mixed academy. Both will offer courses that will lead to professional qualifications for professional tradesmen and women.

Of course there is much more to success than this. But academies, I believe, offer the chance to point our schools in the right direction. Up to ten days ago this was just a dream that a few of us shared with David Hughes, the sponsor of the new school. David is a North End boy who made good, and who now wishes to put something back in the town that gave him a start in life.

On Monday the Education minister signalled an amber light to the long process of establishing a new academy. Three days later, on the Friday, David and I announced in Birkenhead the opportunity to establish a new academy. We were generously supported by the Heads who have worked so hard to offer young people opportunities in the hopeless system in which Governments have insisted they work.

The next stage is in September when the minister will hopefully turn the amber light to green. This will be the first stage in the legal process that the idea can go out for consultation and discussion.

At the moment Labour and Liberal Democrat Councillors are behind the scheme being discussed in public, and for this discussion to be a serious event as part of a wide-ranging consultation process.

The council is anxious to get into that stage, but its plan goes beyond one new academy. Phil Davies, who is Wirral's Cabinet member for young people, intends that this great opportunity should be seen as part of a wider plan. There are some other plans that will be announced just as soon as Wirral have the legal right to do so. These plans centre on how all the schools in Birkenhead can develop radically so to improve the life chances, of not just the 30-40% who gain minimum leaving requirements, but of every one of our pupils.

These blogs will report progress as the discussion opens up.
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Showing comments 1 to 3 of 3

Perhaps all schools should be required to select by three methods - geogrpahic proxiity, aptitude for specialism and general aptitude, with, say, a minimum of 25% by each method, leaving the balance for siblings and special cases?A truly mixed intake?
Comment by Anonymous on 15 Jul 2011
Sounds promising but flexibility needs to be the key and we need to train people with more of a vocational thrust than at present...but social skills, hygiene,citizenship all important areas that aren't covered sufficiently in many schools. It's depressing that the same kind of arguments were going on among politicians more than 30 years ago when I was at school and they're still going on now...
Comment by Anonymous on 15 Jul 2011
Frank, how will admissions be organised - will there be selction by aptitude? My son attends an academy where we live (down south!) and I don't want him getting "professional qualifications for professional tradesmen and women" I want him to be able to go to University and study a rigorous academic or vocational degree such as physics or geography or engineering (i.e. not media studies etc) for which he is obviously capable.My point is you can't have this specialism of schools, targeted at meeting specific needs and aspirations for children, unless there is selection of some kind. There are 8 sepcialist schools where I live, but less than 10% of childen have any choice in school based on the specialism - what is the point? If you setup a system os specialism, tailoring, targeting of eductaion to match needs, there must be selection based on these needs.
Comment by Anonymous on 15 Jul 2011

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