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Last Updated: Monday, 30 July 2007, 09:06 GMT 10:06 UK
'Trendy' degree courses attacked
Graduation (generic)
Peter Morris says higher education targets lead to dumbing down
Ministers have been accused by a teaching union official of "dumbing down" education, leading to "trendy" college courses such as circus skills.

Peter Morris, chairman of the Welsh executive of the Professional Association of Teachers (PAT), accused Labour of reducing academic standards.

He said it helped create non-academic degrees such as surfing and knitwear.

But the Department of Children, Schools and Families said it wanted higher education to be "accessible" to all.

In a speech to the PAT annual conference, in Harrogate, Mr Morris will claim "the middle classes are becoming the new whipping boys for New Labour".

Mr Morris cited Swansea University's closure of its chemistry department as an example of how "sound academic departments" were losing financial backing.

He said: "I am angry because this government has interfered with my children and their children's chances of getting a good education in this country.

Peter Morris
I am angry because this government has interfered with my children and their children's chances of getting a good education in this country
Peter Morris, Professional Association of Teachers

"They have changed the ways that examinations are assessed, and clearly this has had a 'dumbing down' effect on the academic standards in the UK in order to get more pupils to achieve."

PAT, which has about 35,000 members, calls itself "the independent trade union and professional association for the whole team" in education.

'Unrealistic target'

It has a policy not to strike or take any other industrial action, although it says its members are "free to petition and lobby, demonstrate outside working hours and invoke the protection of employment law and contractual rights".

Mr Morris, who taught at Bishop Gore Comprehensive School in Swansea before he retired, said plans for university application forms from 2008 to ask whether the applicant's parents had a degree were "creating barriers in education based on social class".

He said: "What possible relevance is this to an application?"

It is only right that we are also ensuring the opportunity of higher education is accessible to everyone who desires it
Department for Children, Schools and Families

Mr Morris claimed the "unrealistic target" of having half of those under 30 to have been in further education by 2010 had led to dumbing down of degree courses.

He said: "This target, in my view, is one of the reasons why these non-academic courses are receiving financial backing from the government, which is resulting in academic courses being axed in favour of the new trendy subjects."

In 2004, Swansea Institute said it was dropping its BA in surf and beach management to protect its image because people had been "poking fun at it".

A Department for Innovation, University and Skills spokesman said: "The government is committed to ensuring that all who have potential and ability to benefit from HE are able to do so.

"As technology and the nature of business changes, it is right that HE will adapt to produce graduates with the skills that are needed in the employment market.

"Many of these skills are new and have not been catered for previously but higher education institutions, as autonomous bodies, have a good record of exploiting these new and exciting business opportunities."

A spokesperson for the Welsh Assembly Government, which runs education in Wales as a devolved responsibility, said it "aims to ensure the best possible environment to encourage learning at all stages in people's lives, regardless of social standing."

Non-academic degrees in subjects like surfing and knitwear are attacked by a teaching union official.

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