New schools for skills

A new type of vocational school should be created as schools and colleges are not up to teaching work-related courses to teenagers, the chief inspector believes.

David Bell is expected to use a keynote speech later this year to call for dedicated vocational centres of excellence for 14 to 16-year-olds.

Critics will accuse him of putting the clock back more than half a century to the 1944 Education Act which separated children into technical, secondary modern and grammar schools.

But Mr Bell will argue that pupils are being short-changed by schools and further education colleges because they do not have the skills or resources to provide good vocational education. And while colleges may succeed in re-engaging disaffected pupils, he questions whether they can cope with large numbers of 14 to 16-year-olds.

He is expected to say that different institutions, including new vocational centres, should work together to provide pupils with a range of options which they could study on different sites.

Mr Bell will use his speech to set out the Office for Standards in Education's view of 14 to 19 education in the context of the reforms proposed by Mike Tomlinson, Mr Bell's predecessor. It comes amid a fierce debate over Mr Tomlinson's call for a diploma and high quality vocational education for 14 to 19-year-olds. His report said: "High quality vocational learning is dependent on the availability of appropriate facilities that mirror the workplace as closely as possible. Not all institutions will be able to provide this."

Sir Cyril Taylor, chairman of the Specialist Schools Trust, said it would not be practical for all schools to provide a full range of vocational education. He wants specialist school families, including vocational specialists, to offer a range of options to pupils.

The trust hopes to find sponsors to provide the equipment needed to teach skills such as healthcare or automotive engineering.

Mr Bell is keen for Ofsted to help shape the future of 14 to 19 education and wants ministers' response to the Tomlinson inquiry, expected later this month, to take account of inspection evidence.

Ofsted's report on the introduction of vocational GCSEs, published in July, said that school classrooms were "designed for different purposes and have not been adapted to improve (their) suitability for the teaching of these vocational courses".

Most teachers lack confidence in assessing pupils' vocational work and the quality of lessons compares unfavourably with academic courses, it found.

Up to 120,000 14 to 16-year-olds train in FE colleges each year as part of the Increased Flexibility programme.

John Dunford, Secondary Heads Association general secretary, said: "I would be opposed to a further diversification of the system in this way. We need to give a new qualification framework time to bed down and give schools and colleges the resources to deliver vocational education to 14-16-year-olds in a collaborative way."

John Brennan, Association of Colleges' chief executive, said: "Far from being an innovative approach to the needs of the 21st century, such a suggestion is a throwback to the secondary modern era."

In a report published this week, MPs on the education select committee called for the funding differential between schools and FE colleges to be addressed. It quoted an AoC estimate that the funding gap between the sectors is 10 per cent. "FE colleges should not be seen as a means of providing education on the cheap," the report said.

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