Can there be life after TVEI?

Elaine Williams

During TVEI's lifetime, there has been an upsurge in collaborative projects. Its demise has prompted widespread fears these initiatives will now peter out. Elaine Williams reports

All good things come to an end, and 1997 will mark the cessation of the Government's funding of the Technical and Vocational Education Initiative (TVEI). The latter's demise will be much-mourned in some quarters, not least because it could endanger collaboration be-tween schools and colleges in developing major curriculum areas, such as language, science and technology and careers guidance.

TVEI was a huge scheme. Costing Pounds 900 million and lasting 14 years, it was launched by the Department of Employment in 1983 to help schools prepare their pupils for the world of work.

Since then, many schools and colleges have worked together under the TVEI umbrella in a way that has proved an antidote to the competitiveness engendered by devolved budgeting. Thousands of schools still enjoy TVEI support but there are fears that the creative momentum which has built up in key curriculum areas will collapse once the funding stops in 1997.

TVEI has already come to an end in Kent. In its review of the scheme Kent County Council quotes a deputy head from a special school: "The market economy and competition is destroying the ethos of collaborative working. We shall regret its demise, if that's what happens"

Support for special educational needs was one of TVEI's principal features and its development of National Records of Achievement has proved a major boost for special needs pupils. The headteacher of another Kent special school stated: "We were in a time-warp until TVEI came along. It has been a catalyst for us in many respects but especially in helping us secure accreditation for our students' achievements".

TVEI funding has had a considerable impact on special needs schools and there are fears that they may suffer most when the cash supply grinds to a halt. As another head teacher commented: "What may be regarded as minor funding for a large secondary school is major funding for us. TVEI has made a real difference."

TVEI began life in an atmosphere of righteous indignation from members of the education world, outraged that huge sums of money were being channelled through the Employment Department in what seemed like political opportunism. Critics argued that any scheme so well funded was bound to succeed. But local authorities, in the end, were pleased to have the money.

Before TVEI, work experience in schools was relatively rare and the use of information technology was limited. Work experience is now part of almost every child's education and IT is used throughout the curriculum.

Undoubtedly, the impact made by TVEI over the years had some influence on Sir Ron Dearing's revision of the national curriculum. According to a spokesman: "It was clearly one of the contributory factors towards Sir Ron's recommendation that greater attention should be paid at key stage 4 to provision of a vocationally-orientated curriculum and qualifications".

And the freeing of time at key stage 4 for schools that wished to blaze a vocational trail with the introduction of general national vocational qualifications (GNVQ) Part 1, was obviously influenced by the technological thrust in schools that TVEI has encouraged.

TVEI has not been without its critics. In 1991 the National Audit Office condemned the scheme as poorly managed with insufficient controls as to how the money was being spent and where it was going. The NAO also decried the evaluation of schemes as woefully inadequate, stating that because of this, lessons from the first seven years (which had already cost about Pounds 134 million) had been lost to schools and colleges.

In its early stages much of the TVEI budget went on computer hardware, and subsequent stories of schools squandering money on inappropriate systems are legion. Staff training and the development of different teaching styles to suit different kinds of pupils was also part of the TVEI package and again, stories of unopened staff development manuals that were eventually thrown away are not uncommon.

However, procedures were tightened up in the latter stages of TVEI and the National Foundation for Educational Research last year praised the initiative for achieving important goals. It revealed that pupils from TVEI-funded schools tended to have more experience of using computers and of work outside and were more aware of options in post-16 education and training. It also said that GCSE results improved and pupils felt more positive about learning and making decisions.

In Birmingham, whose TVEI funding ran out last year, the money was used to create partnerships between schools and colleges in all the major TVEI fields: work experience; teaching and learning development; science and technology; careers education and guidance; National Record of Achievement; European awareness and foreign language development; special educational needs; equal opportunities and the performing arts.

It was also used to launch a schools performing arts festival aimed at ethnic minorities and encourage the formation of city-wide curriculum development groups. A modern foreign languages group, for example, collaborated to produce computer software, tapes and written materials in Spanish, German and French in order to promote more flexible learning.

Birmingham City Council has urged the Government to maintain resources to support such collaborative curriculum development "over and above what is delegated to schools". Without such resourcing, it states in its TVEI review, development work will remain unfocused and without direction.

Kent County Council has attributed the increased number of girls studying science to TVEI, as well as the fact that all of Kent's special schools now have science on the curriculum, assisted by the funding of scientific equipment.

It is hoped that the Training and Enterprise Councils (TECs) and Education and Business Partnership (EBP) will take up the mantle of much of the work started with TVEI. But Kent warns "that these agencies will need a carefully-considered strategy to provide this support".

David Grey, the director of TVEI in Birmingham said: "What we were trying to do under TVEI was to make a broader, more coherent progression from 14 to 19 and that is precisely what Dearing has wanted".

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