high schools/technical high schools.
Downunder hasn't had grammar schools and secondary moderns. When I was in the secondary school my city cousins had high schools and technical high schools. They were not quite the equivalent of the grammar/secondary modern but they were a similar idea.
We didn't have the "11+ " type exam. We had something called the "Progress Certificate". We did the exams for that over the last two years and the marks were added together out of 500. (The Senior Cat's generation did something called the Qualifying Certificate which was rather more like the 11+. )
It didn't matter what marks you got you could go to either sort of school but there was an expectation that those with lower marks would go to technical high schools where there was a greater range of practical subjects and more likelihood, especially for boys, of getting an apprenticeship.
Big city schools were also ability streamed. I spent my "gap" year working in one where the first year went from 1A to 1G and there was another school not that far away which went from 1A to 1H.
Now they often label classes according to the first letter of the surname of the class teacher. Classes are not supposed to be ability streamed. Everyone is supposed to study the same subjects until late secondary school and all schools are just "high schools" in this state with the exception of the one school which has special agricultural facilities.
It's all supposed to give children "an equal opportunity". The idea that we separate them according to ability at around age eleven or twelve is considered wrong.
Yes, there are problems with that. Being labelled a "failure" or "not quite good enough to make the A stream" or something equally "bad" can have severe consequences. I don't know what the answer to that is.
But I also know that there are a lot of students starting high school who do not want to study algebra, physics, Japanese or IT. They would prefer to do arithmetic, general science, basic communication skills and woodwork. What is more we still need people who can do those things - but we aren't teaching them those things at school. Instead we are asking all students to "aim for university" when some of them have absolutely no interest in that. I know there are all sorts of arguments about maturity and not closing off options and that young people don't really know or understand the consequences of their choices and.... well you know the arguments too no doubt.
But yesterday someone bailed me up and asked if I could recommend something that would give her son some basic communication skills. He's no saint but he's landed himself an apprenticeship and he had actually asked her to ask me. I told her to get him to give me a call. Late in the afternoon he wandered around from their home in the next street and we chatted for a few minutes.
I asked him, "When did you last read a book because you wanted to rather than because you had to do it for school?"
He looked blankly at me. He hasn't read a book like that since primary school. He was too busy trying to learn Japanese and algebra - "which I don't get at all".
I passed over a short autobiography I thought might interest him and told him that we could talk some more in the upcoming term break. He went off - in grave danger of tripping over as he was looking at the book.
Is it just possible he's learning the wrong things - and not reading enough? How do we get around that one?