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Tuesday, October 5, 1999 Published at 13:41 GMT 14:41 UK


Woodhead says pupils should learn a trade

Plumbing was an option suggested by Chris Woodhead

Teenagers who are not academically inclined might be better off studying plumbing, according to the Chief Inspector of Schools in England, Chris Woodhead.

The head of the Office for Standards in Education (Ofsted), said tens of thousands of pupils should drop most academic subjects at the age of 14.

They should continue with English and maths, but should concentrate on learning a trade instead of pursuing other qualifications which would not get them a job, he said.

"A young person getting a job as a plumber that pays a good wage is likely to feel better than the person who does a degree in media studies and then finds that John Humphrys doesn't want to employ them on the Today programme."

'Hard politicial decisions'

Mr Woodhead was speaking in Bristol on Tuesday at the annual meeting of the Headmasters' Conference, representing the country's top independent schools.

The government is already allowing students to drop two subjects from the age of 14 and use the time to pursue work-related courses, but Mr Woodhead's proposals would go further.

[ image: Academic study does not suit everyone]
Academic study does not suit everyone
His comments came a day after he questioned the government's higher education targets at a fringe meeting at the Conservative Party conference in Blackpool.

The Prime Minister, Tony Blair, has said he wants to see 50% of young adults going to university.

But Mr Woodhead asked whether there were enough graduate jobs, and said "hard political decisions" should be taken about whether the investment was justified.

In his speech at the Headmasters' Conference, Mr Woodhead said that if schools imposed the same curriculum on all pupils, they would "dilute the challenge for the most academically able and bore those who want and need and deserve something different".

"The challenge is to preserve the rigour of demands for the intellectual while at the same time developing worthwhile vocational courses for those who have gone as far, for now at least, as they are going to go."

After delivering his speech, Mr Woodhead explained he would not want non-academic pupils to leave school at 14, but said they might want to spend more time at further education colleges.


Decisions about which route pupils should take after 14 should not be based on test results alone, he said.

"What is best for each student should be decided after discussions between students, schools and their parents."

He acknowledged it would be "very difficult to achieve parity of esteem" between children who chose academic and work-related routes.

"Everything depends on the quality of the qualifications. If they are rigorous and purposeful and intelligible both to students and potential employers, then they will develop their own currency," he said.

Mr Woodhead's ideas were criticised as "divisive" by John Dunford, General Secretary of the Secondary Heads' Association, who said the divide between academic and non-academic had "bedevilled English education for decades."

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