Many youngsters are now denied access to the “education superhighway of opportunity” as a result of major government reforms, according to Graham Dawson, president of the NASUWT.
In his speech to delegates on the opening day of the union’s annual conference yesterday, he said young people’s life chances have been narrowed by a focus on core academic subjects at GCSE, the trebling of tuition fees and a rise in unpaid internships.
He said: “How dare any government, especially one largely privately educated, restrict the life chances of so many of our children by deliberately limiting their educational opportunities?
“How dare they charge £9,000 a year for university tuition? How many of you here would have taken that option?
“Can you afford to support your children to work as an unpaid intern, as many professional occupations demand?
“How many of you have a young person in your circle of family and friends that cannot find employment commensurate with their talents, skills and qualifications? Or in many parts of the country, any job at all?
“Instead of the education superhighway of opportunity, they are diverted onto the dirt track of low pay, zero hours and dead-end jobs.
Mr Dawson, a special and additional needs teacher from Tyneside, had warned that schoolchildren are being denied access to a wide range of opportunities and subjects because schools are under pressure to focus on core academic subjects at the expense of others.
As part of a major shake-up of the education system in England, spearheaded by then education secretary Michael Gove, the government introduced the English Baccalaureate, a measure which recognises pupils who pass English, maths, science, history or geography and a language - including ancient languages like Latin and Greek - and score at least a C grade at GCSE in each.
Ministers argued that the move would give students a good grounding in key academic subjects and allow them to compete with their peers internationally.
But concerns were raised that the move risked sidelining other subjects such as art, music and drama, as well as more practical courses. The Government has insisted that it has also re-vamped vocational qualifications to ensure youngsters are taking high-quality courses.
Adressing these reforms Mr Dawson said: “Education is more than five A to Cs,” he said. “Education leads to worlds of wonder and opportunity. Not a narrow corridor, confining and restricting children.
“It is imperative to educate the whole child. It is time that those in charge of government policy, and some of our school leaders, also realised this as well.
“It is a national disgrace that some schools are abandoning the arts, PE, music and other non-core subjects to concentrate on those subjects deemed acceptable by this government of ‘Gradgrinds’. Yes, of course, we need our core subjects, but we also need our hearts and minds opened to a variety of educational opportunities.
“If our children and young people are denied this, we should be ashamed, for we will have not just let them down but our vocation as well. We understand that for many of our disadvantaged young people, education is the only way their diverse talents can be harnessed and utilised for their benefit and of our society. Many vocational courses are not accessible to talented, practically inclined young people because of academic requirements. We need our Stephen Hawkings’, but we also need Bob the Builder, firefighter sally, Ned the nurse, soldier Salim and postal worker Patu.”