Leader magazineASCL - Association of School and College Leaders



Foundation learning is a key element of the government's 14-19 reforms and has personalised learning at its heart. More change? Yes, but leaders shouldn't fear it, says Mal McHugh, as much of what will be required is already in place.

In September this year amber turns to green for foundation learning. All local authorities in England should have some provision in place and have plans for implementation in most schools and colleges by 2011-12.

In the pilots running since 2008, the new programmes and activities offered as foundation learning have had a positive impact on the motivation and success of learners working at entry or level 1. Schools and colleges have been enthusiastic and have made an important contribution to reforms to the initial framework.

The government sees foundation learning as a key part of its 14-19 reforms and of the move towards raising the participation age to 18 in 2015. In February, Iain Wright, the schools minister, announced a further £20 million investment in foundation learning.

For schools and colleges it does not mean a whole new suite of provision because much of foundation learning is already part of the curriculum - for example, functional skills and activities learners have been involved in through Key Stage 4 engagement programmes, alternative curriculum and entry to employment.

What it does is reward small steps of learning over shorter periods, giving the learner confidence and helping them to build up credits towards an award at entry level or level 1. Each student gets a unique learner number and can build up credits towards an award (1-12 credits), a certificate (13-36 credits) or a diploma (37 or more credits). Students can move on to a variety of options - a first full level 2 qualification, skilled employment, independent living, diplomas or GCSEs. The need to set goals continues to be important but the reforms give learners scope to make more informed career choices and to change their minds as they mature.

Foundation learning has three integrated curriculum components:

  • vocational or subject learning

  • personal and social development

  • functional skills

The philosophy behind it is that all learners can make progress through individualised learning programmes that give a wide choice of options and offer opportunities to progress to the next level of learning. The hope is that learners will be inspired to go further but, even if they are accumulating credits at the same level, they will be rewarded for their achievements.

In the pilot schools and colleges, there have been some remarkable examples of learners who have been re-engaged and gone on to gain both foundation learning and level 2 qualifications. Others may not have reached level 2 but have gone into the workplace with continued support or have carried on with foundation learning, achieving at their own pace.


Some 600 14-16 year-olds were involved in the first pilot in 22 local authorities and the number grew to more than 10,000 14-19 year-olds in 2009-10. In response to demand from local authorities, an extended foundation learning network that includes a further 33 authorities was introduced in September 2009 and they will link with the 22 in the pilot to share their experience.

A learning visit programme working across local authorities has been established to build effective practice networks. The pilot ends in July this year and the evaluation will be widely disseminated.

Schools and colleges have played an important role in refining the original framework and it is important that this conversation continues. The programme delivery partners - the QCDA, DCSF, LSC and the Learning and Skills Improvement Service (LSIS) - will continue to discuss the issues with school and college leaders and all those involved in implementation.

We want to know if there are gaps in provision for learners, and where they are. Our awarding organisation forum meets every six to eight weeks and we raise any new issues at these meetings.

Before Christmas there was a demand from teachers at special schools for more ways of developing employment skills, such as travel to work. What may seem basic at first glance can involve skills which can be recognised by the Qualifications and Credit Framework (QCF), such as knowing where to catch a bus or train, reading a timetable, having the correct money for fares and, in London, being able to understand an Oyster card.

Another innovation being developed with awarding organisations is subject-level foundation learning, offering qualifications in areas such as history, geography, media or religious studies at entry level in the QCF.

Many young people are involved in youth clubs and organisations outside school and some do voluntary work in the community. A project is underway to look at how learners' achievements out of school can be more fully recognised in the foundation learning qualifications framework this year.

Attainment tables

One of the first questions I am often asked is about points that count towards the school and college achievement and attainment tables.

All accredited foundation learning qualifications carry these points and it is easy to check them through the online foundation learning qualifications catalogue at www.qcda.gov.uk/flqcatalogue

This shows the qualification title and size, level, sector, age range approved for use and, through a link in the far right column, the achievement and attainment table points.

Funding is another issue and the money announced by the government last month will help ease the transition from Key Stage 4 engagement programmes to foundation learning.

Some ask how foundation learning differs from the foundation diploma. The diploma is more prescribed and holistic compared to foundation learning, which is flexible and tailored to the needs and interests of the individual learner.

No one would want to go down an unfamiliar road without signposts. QCDA has published new curriculum guidance aimed at mainstream schools. With LSIS we are looking at making available further practice models and curriculum timetables to show what kinds of approaches providers have found useful. In the spring we are also introducing a new toolkit that places all delivery partner information about foundation learning in one place on a website.

We are here to support. Teams from QCDA and our delivery partners go out regularly to conduct workshops and seminars. We have a series of pilot, extended network, regional and national foundation learning events, together with dedicated regional and national conferences scheduled during the year. We aim to promote understanding, good practice and collaborative dialogue between schools, colleges and other providers of foundation learning courses.

Foundation learning for educators is essentially about building on good practice, sharing effective ways to deliver personalised learning and making sure there is good diagnostic assessment and support for learners. For many learners foundation learning will be their first chance to shine.

Mal McHugh is senior manager for foundation learning at the Qualifications and Curriculum Development Agency.

© 2024 Association of School and College Leaders | Designed with IMPACT