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Bring on the 'super college'

An urgent independent review of 11-16 education in Wales has been called for following claims that it is "falling short".

Sir Adrian Webb launched his long-awaited report on FE and 14-19 vocational learning with 136 radical recommendations in Cardiff on Tuesday.

It backs the further development of the Welsh baccalaureate and the formation of "super colleges" to ensure young people are armed with the right skills for industry.

The report also calls for swift action to identify how schools should challenge underachievement and poor engagement.

But there were fears this week that the raft of recommendations, which has taken 12 months to produce, may become lost in policy.

"My concern is that this report is not left to fall into the long grass of the Assembly government's playing field," said Kirsty Williams, the Welsh Lib Dem's education spokesperson.

And Gareth Jones, secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders Cymru, questioned whether there was enough funding in the system to carry the reforms.

In the report, Sir Adrian, chair of the Pontypridd and Rhondda NHS Trust, admits Wales is falling short, but says not all the blame should be heaped on the government and those in education.

He says snobbish attitudes to work-led learning in the world of academia have to change, and vocational qualifications must lead to higher education.

"While this perception is widespread, the choices of learners, parents and education advisers will continue to be skewed," he says.

Bleak figures in the report show 60 per cent of pupils in Wales fail to get five A* to C-grade GCSEs, including English or Welsh, maths and science. A quarter of people in Wales do not have basic literacy skills and more than half lack numeracy skills.

On the back of these gloomy statistics, Sir Adrian aimed for a basic skills assessment of every pupil aged nine, 11 and 14. The goal over 10 years, he said. would be to eliminate basic skills gaps and NEETS (those not in employment, education or training).

Sir Adrian fully supports the 14-19 Learning Pathways initiative. But he says funding should be streamlined for 14 to 16-year-olds to provide a "consortium" arrangement between schools, colleges and employers.

The review was called for in the Assembly government's Learning Country: Vision into Action policy document. Wales's deputy education minister John Griffiths said it would be debated in the Senedd this January.

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