Collaboration is the key
Half the secondary schools and most further education colleges in England are now involved in partnerships to provide high quality vocational learning in their local areas at Key Stage 4.
These schools and colleges have strongly embraced the idea that there should be significant work-related learning options as part of a wider, flexible range of choices available for 14-16 year-olds.
This development in vocational learning, introduced though the LSC's Increased Flexibility Programme, has been endorsed by the recent 14-19 White Paper.
It proposes building on what has been achieved with proposals to further strengthen vocational education pre-16 and throughout the whole 14-19 phase.
Collaboration is one of the most valuable and encouraging aspects of the Increased Flexibility Programme. It is key to the success of the vocational GCSEs and other vocational qualifications introduced over two years ago.
New partnerships are being developed between secondary schools and their local colleges, training providers and employers where few, if any, existed on such a scale before.
Enthusiasm for this initiative also remains high and the numbers involved are encouraging.
With two cohorts so far, a total of 95,000 pupils are taking part. Well over 300 colleges and 2,000 schools are involved.
We hope the partnership working that has taken place will give all the parties the confidence to develop this initiative further. Effective partnership requires hard work and planning, but these are outweighed by the potential returns for learners.
We also want to see new ways to encourage more employers to participate - it is very much in their interests that young people develop skills to improve their employment prospects and contribute to business success and national competitiveness.
Now that the partners in this scheme have had an opportunity to work through some of the irksome issues they initially encountered - complex timetabling, transport and arranging multi-school groups - some of the evidence emerging suggests instances of better behaviour, improved attendance and attainment among 14-16 year-olds taking part.
We are awaiting the results of an evaluation to be published later in the spring but initial reports suggest the young people on the programme have faired marginally better, in terms of results, than those doing GCSEs outside the programme.
Vocational GCSEs will be expanded beyond the eight that were initially introduced. Pilots are already underway in secondary schools to test two new subjects - the performing arts and applied French.
In September, pilots will begin in construction, hospitality, sports and recreation. The programme will also benefit from more funding - an extra £4.25 million from the DfES in December 2004 for Year 11 attainment.
The Increased Flexibility Programme, then, is at the heart of the spectrum of opportunities that are expanding vocational learning, work related learning and work experience for young people.
Sitting along side this is another opportunity introduced last September. The young apprenticeships for 14-16 year-olds was launched as part of the new family of apprenticeships.
One thousand pupils took part in the first cohort and a further 2,000 are expected to participate from this September.
The white paper offers further impetus for vocational learning in the pre-16 phase of secondary education.
The pilot programme it proposes - to provide tailored learning, support and guidance to 14-16 year-olds, leading to a Level 1 diploma - envisages a significant level of work-based learning and would lead on to a further range of options, including apprenticeships.
Up to 10,000 young people could be involved in this project from 2007-08.
A key challenge for the future, and one we are determined to meet, will be to ensure that the 14 proposed specialist diplomas, which will have a strong vocational element, are of equal status and rigour to GCSEs and A levels.
These will be designed on behalf of employers by the new network of Sector Skills Councils, which represent key employment sectors in the economy.
They will play a big role in meeting employers' skills needs and in ensuring that schools and colleges provide the courses that young people want.
It is clear from these developments - the good work that has already taken place and the changes foreshadowed in the white paper - that secondary schools, working with their partners, will have a major role in ensuring that vocational learning takes it rightful place among the educational choices available to children.
Building on what has been achieved so far, the white paper is a tremendous opportunity for the future that will require schools, colleges and training providers to continue to develop the excellent collaboration that is benefiting young people in local communities across the country.
That is what the LSC wants to see and what we will strive to encourage.
By Caroline Neville, Director of Learning, Learning and Skills Council
© 2017 Association of School and College Leaders