Leader magazineASCL - Association of School and College Leaders

At the crossroads for 14 to 19

Crossroads

Despite broad professional consensus for radical, long-term change at 14-19, the white paper has signalled that there will be little government support for change. Ann Hodgson and Ken Spours of the Institute of Education discuss where schools go from here.

So what do we do now with 14-19 education and training?

We still have GCSEs and A levels as the 'cornerstones' of the government's 'new system'. We continue to have performance tables based on qualifications at 16, albeit slightly broadened to include vocational qualifications.

We have calls to collaborate but policies that privilege competition and selection and, yet again, we have proposals for new vocational qualifications.

The government has banked everything on a set of 'high status' vocational diplomas levering up the whole system.

It is difficult, however, to see where the status will come from when the vocational will continue to be seen as a place for learners unwilling and unable to succeed in an academic route.

So is there hope for 14-19 education? Given the deep-felt desire by the education profession - and many outside it - to keep the Tomlinson vision alive, we believe there is a way forward.

Post-election

At the national level, the challenge is to build on the consensus for a unified 14-19 phase after the general election when the political climate might be more conducive.

At the same time, however, the white paper proposes a strong vocational qualifications route. This is something with which everyone agrees; the issue will be its effectiveness and status.

It will be important to work towards a model that could become part of a more unified system in the future.

The other challenge is at the local level. Despite the disappointments of the white paper, life goes on.

It is important to encourage collaboration to meet the needs of all learners. The white paper is quite strong on this issue and there will, therefore, be opportunities for pragmatic, inclusive strategies in both the short and longer term.

At the local level, this might mean using established networks, such as the London Region Post-14 Network as platforms for debating ideas and developments.

It might also mean that colleges, training providers, LEAs and local LSCs continue to develop bottom-up, unified approaches to 14-19 education and training in a local area.

This is to be done by using conducive aspects of the white paper, while identifying barriers thrown up by other proposals. Involving employers and higher education providers in these bottom-up initiatives will be important.

Joint LEA/LSC prospectus

In practice, much of this collaborative work is already underway in different parts of the country as a result of 14-19 Pathfinders and the Increased Flexibility Programme.

The white paper proposals for joint LEA/LSC area-wide prospectuses for 14-19 extend these developments.

This approach suggests the need for more impartial advice and guidance and more formal progression agreements between local providers involving employers and higher education.

It also potentially provides a framework for staff development and support for the new specialist diplomas and for maximising the national funding that will undoubtedly accompany the white paper proposals.

All these strategies work broadly with the grain of the 14-19 white paper and, if they are carefully planned with learners' rather than individual providers' needs uppermost, they will potentially go some way towards meeting the Tomlinson vision.

However, the challenges of partnership working, as many of those who have participated in the 14-19 Pathfinders and IFP programme know only too well, should not be underestimated.

Moreover, the 14-19 White Paper's continued emphasis on performance tables based on individual qualifications, with the raising of the bar from 5 A*-Cs to include English and maths, will not help here.

Diploma options

There will undoubtedly be some schools and colleges that will wish to be more radical and will strive to promote Tomlinson-type diploma developments for all learners.

At Entry Level, there is already innovative work in some local areas to develop a programmatic approach to the curriculum for learners who are predominantly taking entry level qualifications. It would only require a small step to develop these into diplomas.

The position at Level 1 (Foundation Level) is more complex because GCSE remains as a single qualification spanning Levels 1 and 2, effectively preventing the development of a separate Level 1 diploma that comprises both theoretical and applied learning.

However, the discussion of Level 1 diplomas in the white paper is not well developed and it may be that there is space for innovation and creative thinking at local level as a precursor to national developments.

At Intermediate Level, creating broad and balanced Level 2 diplomas pre-16 is also more problematic with the retention of GCSEs and league tables.

However, some schools might decide to build their Key Stage 4 curriculum around the concept of diplomas, with programmes comprising core and main learning, reducing the number of GCSEs learners take. Some of the 14-19 Pathfinder areas are already thinking along these lines.

Pragmatic solutions like this are also possible at Level 3 (Advanced Level) and at least one education authority has developed its own graduation certificate to recognise learners' achievements beyond individual A levels or AVCEs.

Extended project

While the white paper concept of an extended project (EP) is a pale reflection of the EP in the Tomlinson final report, it might provide a starting point for a stronger notion of core learning at Level 3. It is vital too to build a broad concept of the EP into programmes at Entry, Level 1 and Level 2.

There are two further glimmers of light in the white paper for those wishing to take a more radical approach to secondary education and beyond.

First there is the possibility of developing an all-through strategy from Key Stage 2 up to Level 3, which becomes more possible with the innovations that the white paper envisages for Key Stage 3.

Finally, there is just a hint in the white paper that units and credits might enter the 14-19 phase, albeit in a limited way, as building blocks for future Tomlinson-style diplomas.

It is possible, therefore, to see the 14-19 white paper not as the last word on 14-19 education and training, but as an ill-judged political swerve from the progressive path.

We now have to prepare ourselves for another long haul to steer proposed reform back onto the path where the education profession, in its broadest sense, wants it to be.

Dr Ann Hodgson and Dr Ken Spours are readers of education at the Institute of Education, University of London. They were both involved in the Tomlinson working group.

COLLABORATION FROM THE BOTTOM UP

The 14-19 Pathfinder projects, funded by the government, have given groups of schools the means to try out collaborative ways of offering 14-19 education and training. It will be interesting to see whether these can be sustained once funding is reduced.

Knowlsley

Through the Knowsley Collegiate, Year 10 students can choose from 17 entry and level one courses and 15 level two courses including GCSEs in vocational subjects and NVQs.

Courses are available in several different centres, including a newly built vocational skills centre at a college. An LEA-wide Key Stage 4 prospectus gives details of each of the courses.

At Key Stage 4, students at risk of exclusion have individual work-based learning programmes with local training providers.

GCSE engineering is provided jointly with Jaguar and students spend a good proportion of time working at the local plant.

All schools have agreed to timetable one Year 10 option on a Wednesday afternoon and two school clusters are taking joint timetabling further with colleges.

As of September 2004 more than 1,000 Years 10 and 11 students are studying for part of their time at other institutions, representing around 30 per cent of the cohort.

Coventry

The Coventry Pathfinder Project has resulted in four federations of providers - schools, colleges and training providers - working with the support of the LEA advisory service, the Connexions Service and the Youth Service to provide coherent 14-19 provision.

This has helped to address gaps and avoid duplication. For instance, two federations are piloting an electronic common application process for the post-16 programme of their choice.

Students go online to find out about all the post-16 education and training opportunities available. Schools will complete references and transfer academic information directly to the receiving institution.

One federation has timetabled a common day at Key Stage 4 which facilitates access to off-site work-related learning and reduces the impact on provision in the core subjects.

Each federation has appointed a full or part-time coordinator and each school has appointed or identified a senior staff member with overall responsibility for 14-19 provision.

Southampton

Only 12 per cent of Southampton young people entered higher education in 2001-02 so a key focus of the Pathfinder was to raise aspirations amongst the more able students.

Considerable progress was made by providing master classes comprising two or three sessions of two hours each during the summer term, in a range of areas for Years 8, 9 and 10 students. Last year, 10 per cent of pupils in the city attended at least one session.

Sessions are delivered by the further education college, the two sixth form colleges and Skills Quest (EBP). Pathfinder funding is being used to cover the tuition and transport costs.

More than 700 students took part last year, up from 300 the previous year. Student feedback was very positive about the experience and many showed an interest in post-16 education.

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