Big splash in today's Guardian about government plans to beef up the content and difficulty of GCSEs in Maths and English - which doesn't apply north of the border, of course, but may end up being an indication of the way the wind is blowing, metaphorically speaking.
Anyhoo, there's a comment by Baroness Warnock which you can find here, and I've got to say, the old girl could be talking a lot of sense. I know that a lot of teachers and educational thinkers were disappointed when the government turned down the recommendation of the Tomlinson Report, and it does get me vaguely nostalgic for the Howie Report which came out in Scotland... ooh, ages ago. Basically Professor Howie - the guy's a mathematician, which has to count for something - said we needed to do something about the Higher exams, which are taken mainly by fifth years, who then get a university place based on their Highers, provided they do well enough. Which means they then do... er, what, exactly, in sixth year? "P*ss about!" I can hear the teachers saying in frustration. Well, the Prof suggested we go for a Baccalaureate thingy, which more academic pupils could get by the end of sixth year, which would (a) keep them studying (b) be a nice European way of doing things and (c) insist on students studying a reasonably wide range of disciplines. Less academic/more vocational pupils meanwhile would study for a vocational qualification, with exit points at the end of fourth, fifth or sixth year.
Not a bad idea, I thought at the time - though no-one asked me. But this was not great news to a couple of groups of people. Firstly, to the universities, who insisted that they wanted the Highers (fifth year, remember) to remain the benchmark for uni entry. And why would that be, exactly? Anyone? Well, that way you get more people through the door, of course. (Well, duh!) Which has to be a good thing, surely? See Baroness Warnock for thoughts on that argument.
And the second group? That's the group of people who go wild-eyed crazy when they see someone venture anywhere near the phrase "more academic pupils" like I did above; who complain that there can be no division between "vocational" and "academic" study, and who think that suddenly we're talking about reintroducing the 11-plus (which we never had here anyway). These people are more politicians than they are teachers, believe me.
It's weird: most of the pupils who leave for university see it as part of the process of training for a better-paid job, which is what the polytechnics and colleges used to do so well. So maybe that's Mrs Thatcher's legacy (always blame Mrs T, remember, though by jings Tony and chums don't seem keen to change things): polytechnics get to call themselves universities, and universities get to do the job of polytechnics. Orwell would be amused, at least.