English schools could adopt Dickson Plan model

Trevor Robinson.
Trevor Robinson.

The chief inspector of schools in England has advocated a roll out of a system of education similar to the Dickson Plan as part of a radical overhaul of the school system.

His comments have been welcomed by the principals of Lurgan College and Portadown College.

Ofsted boss Sir Michael Wilshaw has signalled a return to grammar schools with pupils directed towards either an academic or vocational school halfway through secondary education.

His blueprint – outlined in a speech to business leaders – has been heralded as a revival of academic selection.

Lurgan College Principal Trevor Robinson said: “His backing for a degree of academic selection at age 14 before the pupils embark on GCSE courses and his commitment to ensuring parity of esteem for vocational and academic qualifications are entirely consistent with the long-held views of both colleges regarding the retention and enhancement of the Dickson Plan.

“The creation of distinctive academic and vocational pathways at age 14 would maximise opportunity and ensure that all talents are catered for.

“This would surely address the vocational skills shortages constantly highlighted by local businesses.

“Sir Michael’s comments should serve as a timely reminder to all those involved in the on-going debate regarding the future of controlled education in the Craigavon area that the current Dickson Plan model, with appropriate enhancements, presents our community with the very best educational way forward for all young people.”

In a keynote speech to the Confederation of British Industry, Sir Michael backed a degree of academic selection later in a child’s school career, at age 14 before they start their GCSE courses.

Under his proposals, schools would form local ‘clusters’ with each developing different specialisms such as highly academic education – similar to a grammar – and vocational qualifications.

“Young people could then transfer across institutions in the cluster to provide a route to high-level academic or vocational study.

“Students on either path would be free to access the specialist teaching available in the other and would not be stuck in one route,” he said.

Sir Michael insisted he was not advocating ‘selection at 14’ but ‘maximum opportunity at 14’.

In a newspaper interview foreshadowing the speech, he suggested that children would be assessed ‘in consultation with parents, teachers and employers’ and directed towards a school that best matched their aptitudes at 14 or 16.

“I am absolutely sure it is going to happen,” he said.