Champion of 14-19 agenda bows out

David Hopkins left school at 16 and says he did not "make it" in a career until he was 30. This goes a long way to explaining why Caerphilly's director of education, who retires next month, is a fervent supporter of Wales's 14-19 skills agenda. But so does the reality of poor attendance in his authority, particularly by boys.

Mr Hopkins, director since 2000, has looked to England for his inspiration in creating an alternative curriculum, directing his attentions at three English authorities, including Wolverhampton.

Caerphilly now has a 14-19 development unit, the first of its kind in Wales, where heads and FE principals are collaborating to work out shared timetables and a harvest of subject choices.

"Any student over 16 used to have a choice of just over 20 A-levels, with little vocational choice," he said. "They now have access to over 40 choices, vocational or otherwise."

But Mr Hopkins sees huge challenges ahead for Wales's 14-19 agenda as he bows out, although he takes heart from outcomes in Wolverhampton.

Caerphilly is one of Wales's smaller authorities. Last year Estyn inspectors criticised the poor performance of the authority's teenage boys at key stage 4.

"We've looked very closely at our schools since then and some buck the trend," said Mr Hopkins. "I'd say the curriculum needs to be more boy-friendly. But if some schools are doing the business, we should be able to learn from what they are doing right."

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