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Pathways blocked by selfishness

The 14-19 learning pathways reforms were meant to herald a new era of co-operation between institutions in the interests of providing wider choice and raising the quality of education for older pupils.

But, according to inspection agency Estyn, the new pathways are being blocked for post-16s by the selfish instincts of schools and colleges, which fear they will lose students to their rivals, along with the funding.

The result, we are told by Dr John Graystone of fforwm, is that mistrust between schools and colleges, fuelled by rivalry, has become "endemic".

Though the Assembly has invested pound;15 million in more than a hundred collaborative projects for 14 to 19-year-olds via the common investment fund, too many schools are more interested in keeping bums on their own seats: a few are even trying to stop sixth-formers knowing about courses and preventing colleges marketing themselves. The Assembly money has spawned bilingual programmes, pilot community learning projects, collaborative e-learning, curriculum delivery, and "mini-pathfinder"

projects exploring ways of reconfiguring local provision.

Some schools complain that the scheme is too bureaucratic and fear pilot courses will fold for lack of funds to sustain them. There are other problems with transport provision, particularly in rural areas.

Nevertheless, the aim of the reforms is a worthy one: to find ways to raise achievement of qualifications among students most at risk of dropping out.

That less than a third of Welsh secondaries with sixth forms co-operate in some way with a local FE college - and mostly over extra academic A-level courses catering for just one in 20 sixth-formers - is not good enough.

With a mere seven schools sharing timetables, staffing and courses with college partners, and only half of collaborations working well - and few of those focusing on Welsh-medium education or vocational options - urgent action is needed to ensure genuine co-operation.

Otherwise small classes and course duplications will continue and students will lose out.

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