Book Review: Ignorant Yobs? – the education and training of ‘low attainers’

Robin Richardson

Copyright NSiKander 28s photostream

What is to be done, asks Sally Tomlinson, about low attainers? The question refers to about a fifth of the children and young people in countries such as the UK, Germany and the United Sates and refers not only to education and training systems but also to social, political and economic policies. It is also, clearly, a moral question.

Polite and apparently objective alternatives to the term ‘low attainers’ include or have included less able, backward, retarded, slow learners, below average, special needs. Terms which are rather less polite and neutral appear daily in the media and in middle-class conversations – yobs, chavs, feckless, lazy, plebs, underclass, dull, thick, shirkers, scroungers. Either way the language is pejorative, and the attitudes are at best paternalistic and patronising and at worst fearful, demonising and punitive.

What to do about low attainers has been a question for western governments at least since the start of compulsory education some 150 years ago. When unskilled or semi-skilled work in agriculture or manufacturing was readily available, the answers were not too difficult to find. Now that such jobs have declined or disappeared in western countries, and that enterprises operate in global not national contexts, the answers are much more elusive. Sally Tomlinson explores the difficulties and dilemmas with regard to five countries in particular – Finland, Germany, Malta, United Kingdom and United States. Her analysis and conclusions are relevant for a wide range of countries, not for these five only. Read more of this post

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