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A nation in need of coherence

Sir Ron Dearing's review runs to 700 pages, including five research reports. On these and the following two pages The TES reprints edited highlights of a seminal set of recommendations for the future of 16-19 education

The report proposes a coherent national framework, covering all the main qualifications and the achievements of young people at every level of ability. It goes beyond that, to recognise achievement outside main formal qualifications, as part of a restructured and relaunched National Record of Achievement. Because the qualifications appropriate for 16 to 19-year-olds are relevant to people of all ages, it takes into account the needs of adults, particularly those studying part-time. It identifies barriers to achievement and ways to deal with them.

Stability is important, so the proposed national framework is based on the present qualifications. But it seeks to bring the structure of A-levels and the general national vocational qualification into close alignment. This is to enable students to build up a portfolio of qualifications across both pathways. It proposes the renaming of the advanced GNVQ as the "applied A-level".

The report argues that the structure of bodies for regulating and making awards should reflect the recent merger of the Government's responsibilities for education and training into the Department for Education and Employment. This will help to bring greater coherence into the framework of qualifications, and challenge pervasive attitudes towards the relative worth of achievement in the academic and vocational pathways.

The report responds to the representations by employers on the need to build up competence in the key skills of communication, the application of number and information technology, as well as to their concerns to see young people develop wider skills such as team-working, problem-solving and managing their own learning.

It gives explicit recognition and support through the qualifications system to the National Targets for Education and Training. Following the report of the National Commission on Education, it also encourages an option for post-16 education that combines depth with breadth. It also proposes a new approach to Youth Training and its relaunch with a new identity.

It addresses concerns about the rigour of A-levels, and welcomes the proposals to improve GNVQs and national vocational qualifications (NVQs), made in the Capey and Beaumont reviews.

The report gives support to the development of a strengthened GNVQ as a major alternative to A-levels, and as a means of providing the underpinning knowledge and understanding for broad occupational areas, and progression to NVQs.

It seeks to encourage young people across the whole ability range to consider the options now available for combining work with part-time study for NVQ qualifications, from the age of 16.

The report seeks to reduce the present high levels of non-completion and wastage in post-16 education. These proposals seek thereby to help learners get recognition for their achievements, and secure more effective use of public resources.

While the report is primarily concerned with those aged between 16 and 19, in proposing the recognition of achievement below the GCSE, and with those who have learning difficulties particularly in mind, it also extends to 14 to 16s.

Education is about developing all the talents, abilities and faculties of young people. It is about developing them as human beings, and about preparing them for citizenship and parenthood as well as for the world of work.

The challenges of the next century bring the need for success into sharp focus. Education and training are central to the prospects of today's young people for earning a good standard of living.

This report therefore recognises the need to achieve the National Targets for Education and Training. These targets, for the year 2000, have already been surpassed by Germany and Japan.

The need for high achievement will become increasingly evident as China, India and the Philippines progressively emerge as major economies, but with rates of earning a fraction of those in Britain.

The National Targets mean raising the present levels of achievement of large numbers of pupils in statutory schooling. They will also require a major increase in the proportion of the post-16 population engaged in full- and part-time education and training. In 199394, one in ten 16-year-olds was not in education or training, a figure which was doubled at 17 and almost doubled again at 18.

The implication of the [current performance against the National Targets] is clear. We must see today's under-achievers as an educational priority. The National Targets must be brought into our thinking at every level. The framework of qualifications should be instrumental in this.

Achievement in applied and vocational education ranks alongside the academic. Failure to recognise that is to do an immense disservice to today's young people. The nation needs to value good technicians and good graduates equally.

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