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Coaches bring on personalised learning

When Welsh secondaries offer pupils aged 14-plus a range of options known as "learning pathways", it is not some politically correct shift in vocabulary but an attempt to broaden the 14-19 curriculum. The scheme, to be rolled out over the next four years, aims to personalise learning.

Employers will be encouraged to get involved in increasing vocational learning opportunities.

From September 2009, a revised KS4 curriculum will be introduced, with a "learning core" of key skills, knowledge and attitudes. There will be revised study programmes for English, Welsh, maths and science with more emphasis on functional skills. Pupils will be supported through learning coaches - 220 are to be trained by the summer of 2007. They will be recruited from a range of backgrounds, including teachers, social workers and work-based trainers. The Assembly is spending pound;41 million on learning pathways over the next two years. New guidance on the reforms for schools and colleges was published by the Assembly on May 3. Education Minister Jane Davidson said: "Our goal remains that 95 per cent of young people by the age of 25 will be ready for high-skilled employment or higher education by 2015."

The reforms are powered by a recognition that too few 16-year-olds get good GCSEs, and too many drop out.

Some LEAs have made progress with learning coaches. In 2004-5, the assembly funded pilots in eight areas of Wales. In Bridgend, a learning coach has been identified in each of its nine secondaries and a network has been created. Many schools and colleges have already appointed their own. In the Vale of Glamorgan more than pound;80,000 is being spent on setting up learning coaches. But Brian Lightman, treasurer of the Association of School and College Leaders and head of St Cyres comprehensive, the Penarth school which has been piloting the bac, is not convinced. His school already has a successful advice and guidance service for pupils, with a full-time Careers Wales adviser, plus a dedicated member of staff.

"The Assembly's model is based on a very small number of people who are not teachers, coming into schools, undertaking an enormously time-consuming and expensive training programme. And they are going to be very thinly spread," he said.

"So whereas at the moment we have got 80 to 90 teachers in the school, all doing aspects of a learning coach's work, we're talking about bringing one person into a school with 1,500 children. We think they have got this one wrong and they need to listen to our earnest advice about providing a model that we think would be more practical."

A Welsh Assembly spokesman said St Cyres has benefited from being an early Welsh bac pilot. "We cannot however draw the conclusion that the practice of one school, however good it may be, means that there is no need for learning coaches."

Terry Wales, learning pathways 14-19 project leader, will talk on learning coach developments in Wales on Friday, May 26 at 12pm

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