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Fears that key skills curriculum will flop

Steve Hook reports on a warning that post-16 students may not take new qualifications seriously

The Government's drive to improve numeracy and other key skills as part of the new post-16 curriculum is being threatened by a lack of interest from students, according to a new study.

The report from the Learning and Skills Development Agency highlights fears that students expected to follow the compulsory new courses in numeracy and communication and information technology will see them as a burden or refuse to take them seriously. The key skills programme, introduced last September as part of the new post-16 Curriculum 2000 is intended to ensure all students reach a minimum standard in skills regarded as essential for future employment.

The agency which advices the Government on further education says colleges will need to look closely at staff training and timetabling if the key skills element of Curriculum 2000 is to be a success. Employers and universities will also have to play their part in increasing the credibility of key skills qualifications by showing they value them, it says.

"The key skills element of Curriculum 2000 raised more concerns than any other issue, although some schools and colleges were familiar with key skills through their previous general national vocational qualification and other programmes," said the agency's report, Curriculum 2000 + 1.

The agency's study looked at the experiences of 40 schools, sixth-forms and further education colleges with the aim o spreading good practice within the post-16 sector.

Colleges said it was important to develop models for the delivery of key skills, particularly where they do not easily fit in to a student's existing timetable. It also said lecturers needed more support.

Already, the report says, the increased number of subjects in the new curriculum has sparked fears that students will not achieve their full potential in any one area. It has also prompted fears that key skills will be dismissed by busy students as simply an "additional burden".

More learning materials are needed to help with key skills, it said, particularly those which use information technology.

There is a widespread feeling that more needs to be done to increase interest among students. This can be achieved, say colleges, by increasing the value of key skills in the points system for entering higher education.

"Once students realise that key skills are not a mandatory requirement," warns the report, "some schools and colleges feel that the qualification will lose its value, and the students may opt out of key skills."

Tony Tait, the agency's development adviser, said the long-term success of Curriculum 2000, including the key skills element, depended on how valued it was by employers.

"National organisations, employers and higher education have a crucial role to play," he said. "Unless this happens, sooner rather than later, students, teachers and parents will question the value of the new curriculum."

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