Leader magazineASCL - Association of School and College Leaders

Pathways to success

Pathways to success

The Welsh Assembly Government published The Learning Country in 2001, with a commitment to 14-19 education and training - similar to the issues the Tomlinson report tried to address in England. SHA member Sue Halliwell comments on progress so far.

For the last two years, Welsh secondary schools have been involved in developing Learning Pathways 14-19, first set out by the Welsh Assembly Government in 2002 to transform 14-19 education and training.

School leaders have broadly welcomed Learning Pathways 14-19 because it recognises the need to redress the balance between knowledge, skills and experience.

It also reflects the view of many that basic skills and vocational education had been sacrificed on the altar of five A*-C and A levels. The current curriculum and assessment framework has excluded some young people causing disaffection and reducing achievement.

Many schools such as my own, Ogmore School in Bridgend, recognised this even before 2002 and were trying to provide vocational and work-based alternatives in Key Stages 4 and 5.

Students' rights

Learning Pathways 14-19 consists of six key elements that all students will be entitled to:

Individual learning pathway.
This consists of a learning core and a choice of options that meet individual needs, aptitudes and interests. It has formal and informal elements and leads to approved qualifications and awards of credit.

Wider choice and flexibility.
All 14-19 year-olds will be able, with support, to design their learning pathway from a wide range of options leading to a range of qualifications.

Learning core.
This contains the broad, central requirements that all students need, plus enhancements. It incorporates work experience and community participation.

Learning coach.
This is the person or team which helps students identify goals and develop a learning pathway. They will be available for ongoing support.

Personal support.
Some students need occasional supplemental support. This could include counseling and advice, mental health support, health advice or social care.

Careers support and guidance. Students will be entitled to specialist and impartial careers information, advice and guidance.

Theory to action

The government sought the views and expertise of those in education, training, careers, the youth service and community groups during the development process.

Seven 'task and finish groups' were set up between 2002-04 to develop proposals. Out of these, 14-19 Networks, made up of secondary schools and other partners, have been established in each local authority area.

These networks, working with the local Community Consortium for Education and Training (CCET) and local Young People's Partnership (YPP), are charged with identifying priorities for each local area and deciding how the key elements will be put into practice.

They were asked to produce their first development plan for implementation from September 2004.

Personal support and learning coach support were piloted in targeted areas from September 2004 and additional guidance is being produced this summer.

The Welsh Assembly made an initial grant of £50,000 to each 14-19 Network to support the plans for 2004-05.

On the ground

At Ogmore we have actively engaged in these developments. We responded to the consultations, we are involved in a sub-committee of the 14-19 Network and we have widened access to college courses.

We are planning partnership links with a neighbouring school and we are piloting the learning coach initiative.

We firmly believe that parity of esteem for academic, vocational and work-based learning is in the best interests of our young people but...

We are facing real issues with implementation.

In reality, the seven task and finish groups were set to work before an overarching steering group was established. Therefore the groups lacked a central steer.

Furthermore the involvement of the profession in the development was limited; indeed there was only one official representative of secondary heads in the overarching group.

In many areas the 14-19 Networks have become highly bureaucratic, taking staff out of school to concentrate on partnership rather than development.

We are also concerned that these networks will challenge the autonomy of schools because, even though schools will remain the core provider, they will have less freedom to determine their own curriculum policy.

The curriculum has not been relaxed to allow for innovation but has been increased by the learning core. Whilst schools across Wales will experience difficulties in implementing learning pathways, those in rural areas will arguably have greater problems.

College link courses are priced at more money than we receive for pupils and transport needs where schools are some distance apart have not been taken into account.

The development and management of learning coaches and personal advisers has not been thought through. We are not convinced that it will be possible to provide all young people with this level of support.

There is also a conflict between the philosophy of learning pathways that recognises that young people progress at different rates and the current reporting requirements for schools. Our performance is judged on the achievements of our students at ages 16 and 18. Clearly there is a tension here.

Down to funding

However, as with many of the developments in education in Wales the real stumbling block will be lack of funding.

In each network, £50,000 is unlikely to pay for much. If we used a crude approach and simply divided the £50,000 between our ten schools and the college we are talking about less than £5,000 per institution to develop what is an immense change.

We have 340 students 14-19 and £5,000 represents £14.70 per pupil. Bridgend is a relatively small authority and you can imagine that in the larger authorities or rural areas £50,000 will not go far.

My school will have to find £7,000 from its budget to pay for the college courses for 25 Year 10 pupils. Our planned extension of opportunities 16-19 is jeopardised by the uncertainties surrounding funding for post-16.

Our indicative budget is less than previously because some of the 'efficiency savings' required of local authorities has been passed on.

The guidance on Learning Pathways 14-19 produced in July 2004 says "implementing learning pathways will have financial implications for all sectors".

It follows with a suggestion that by careful housekeeping and avoiding duplication we will all be able to cope. There are no assurances about future funding.

It is impossible to argue with the key message that there is a need to redress the balance in our post-14 curriculum.

However, Learning Pathways 14-19 includes many specifics that will require a great deal of change and put immense pressure on an already pressured system.

Without adequate funding we fear we will fail.

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