Secondary heads say teenagers have become the "forgotten pupils" as the 2010 deadline for the implementation of the learning pathways looms.
They claim the 14-19 sector has been left hanging as officials go about a damage limitation exercise following the foundation phase crisis. But they warn that a lack of funding and learning coaches could see a repeat of the FP fiasco, which will have an impact on the number of teenage drop-outs.
Months of active political campaigning and hard-hitting headlines finally forced ministers in Wales to admit the play-led strategy for under-sevens was underfunded.
Earlier this month, education minister Jane Hutt announced that roll-out for all reception pupils, originally planned for this September, would be delayed for one year.
It will mean an entire school year will miss out on the "fun" scheme that is seen as key to raising achievement in Wales.
But secondary teachers say similar funding problems are mounting with the learning pathways, intended to give teenagers more academic, vocational and career choice.
Expected job cuts at FE colleges are also fuelling concerns about providing the intended courses.
Kirsty Williams, Welsh Lib Dem education spokesperson, said the FE sector was being pushed towards greater collaboration at a time of increasing competition for limited resources and students.
"Our economy is suffering due to the shortage of a skilled workforce. The Assembly government accepts and acknowledges this but does not follow through with funding, preferring gimmicks such as free laptops," she said.
An academic investigating the role of learning coaches also said this week that many more need to be trained. Coaches, who may not be qualified teachers and who are already employed at some schools, provide pupils with one-to-one help with their academic or vocational career choices.
They help them compile CVs and support school-leavers in finding jobs. They are seen as important in ensuring children do not become "lost to the education system" and have a big pastoral role, helping young people with drug addiction or alcohol problems.
Professor Danny Saunders, who is leading research into learning coaches at the University of Glamorgan, said: "Part of the Assembly government's aim is to eliminate the entire nation of NEETs (young people not in education, employment or training), and that will involve a lot more support."
Around 300 coaches have already been trained in Wales, according to Professor Saunders, with another 300 on the way. However, schools and FE colleges have also been held back by the amount of time it has taken for an all-Wales law to be consulted on, making it a legal requirement for schools to collaborate with colleges over courses. Approval of the measure will mean schools will be legally required to appoint a learning coach. Assembly government funding to date for coaches is pound;32.5 million.
But Gareth Jones, secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders Cymru, warned that budgets in individual institutions were getting extremely tight.
"The 14-19 learning pathways can only really succeed in the long term through collaboration, but that needs money for transport costs, administration and teaching," he said. "And those costs will continue as the years go on."
Dr Phil Dixon, director of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers Cymru, said: "Cuts in college funding are resulting in redundancies, and courses are being cut at a time when we are talking about providing the widest variety for young people."
But enthusiasm for the scheme remains strong where there are fruitful links between schools, colleges and employers.
Jen Denham teaches life skills at Ysgol Gyfun Bro Morgannwg in Barry, and has a good relationship with the local college. She is currently working as a learning coach part time.
"I think it's a terribly important role working alongside teachers," she said. "The fact that I'm not actually a teacher means pupils don't mind talking to me.
"We look at their options; whether to carry on at school and do A-levels, combine them at college, or go to college, or take up an apprenticeship."
But Ms Denham claims her work as a learning coach has yet to be recognised, with many in the teaching profession unaware of what her role involves.
Leader, page 28
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