Fork ahead on learning pathways

What a difference a week can make. Last Friday, TES Cymru reported an outcry in the profession over proposals for a measure making the 14-19 learning pathways compulsory in just under a year. There is still widespread opposition this week, but at least everyone understands the final proposals a little better now.

It appears that no one below local authority level was fully aware of what this new measure would entail, especially the "staged" banding system. But that is now crystal clear as officials fill in the gaps.

There will be three local authority bands. If your school is in band A, then you must have 30 subject options available to your pupils on the timetable by 2011. If you are in band C, and lagging behind, then the target is 2012.

Officials say that making the 14-19 learning pathways compulsory is necessary to ensure all learners have their entitlements under the curriculum. Heads and teaching unions just see government wielding a big stick, forcing them into collaboration with colleges too early and risking another foundation phase fiasco.

There is no doubt that secondaries are undergoing huge changes. History tells us that overnight change is seldom successful. But change can bring positive benefits, although there will always be resistance from the old guard.

It seems the Assembly government is well-meaning, but its communication with some parties has been lacking. There also seems to be a huge disparity between local authority expectations and those of schools as the skills-led revolution marches on.

Gareth Jones, secretary of the heads' union ASCL Cymru, certainly thinks expectations are unrealistic. But officials are already armed with a database of all of Wales's secondaries on 14-19 learning pathways, so they must have some idea of where schools stand.

Officials believe schools must go forward to deliver the right learning for pupils, with qualified teachers who have specific additional training in pastoral and personalised care.

They also remain convinced that under the right management, that is achievable on existing budgets. The majority of heads on the frontline are under no such illusions.

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