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Bosses hinder learning

Getting employers involved is the biggest challenge to ambitious plans to increase the range of options open to 14 to 19-year-olds, secondary teachers have been told. Extending the opportunities for work experience and learning on the job are key features of the Welsh Assembly government's Learning Pathways document, which sets out its plans for the age group.

But while colleges and schools are signing up, the difficulty of getting employers to commit is one of the major obstacles to reform, according to Gavin Thomas, a consultant to fforwm, which represents FE colleges.

Mr Thomas was speaking at the Welsh Secondary Schools Association's conference on 14-19 and the Welsh baccalaureate in Cardiff last week.

He told delegates that funding the reforms is also a major challenge. This year, the Assembly is paying learning networks - new partnerships involving local education authorities, schools, colleges and employers - pound;50,000 each to write local development plans.

Extra cash is available for pilots of new learning coaches, who will advise 14-year-olds on their options and help them improve their study skills. The coaches are part of a new package of support for students.

But the networks have no legal status and are not able to receive long-term funding from the Assembly. Mr Thomas, who chairs a sub-group of the Assembly government's 14-19 working group, conceded this would make it difficult to reward schools, colleges and others who work in partnership to widen the learning choices open to pupils.

Mr Thomas said reform of the curriculum was needed to tackle underachievement and Wales's historically high drop-out rates at age 16.

Curriculum 2000 had failed to broaden the range of subjects studied by youngsters.

"It is now becoming a crisis of disappointment for many learners, that they are not achieving," he said.

The Welsh Assembly has set a target of 95 per cent of 25-year-olds achieving the equivalent of five A*-C GCSE passes by 2015. This summer, just over half of Wales's Year 11 pupils achieved that standard.

Mr Thomas said the 14-19 agenda was about pushing the baccalaureate approach further down to pre-16 pupils. Common features include an emphasis on key skills.

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