Pathways must not be sold short

The Assembly government's 14-19 learning pathways strategy has never had the same allure as the fun-filled foundation phase.

No one has ever argued against the initiative's educational imperatives, the chief one being to prevent disaffected young people dropping out of school by offering them options to get out of bed for.

But the linguistic and bureaucratic nightmare for heads in managing this new curriculum, including endless transfers of pupils from school to colleges, was always going to be a real passion-killer.

Add to that the inevitable loss of per-pupil funding, and the pathways was always going to be based on uneasy compromise and lukewarm collaboration between schools and colleges.

Despite that, there has been much goodwill and practice by schools in phasing in the pathways over the past few years.

A lot of dust has settled since the publication of the 2005 Chapman report, which was criticised from the outset, but clearly stated a deadline of 2010 for final implementation.

But then the 2006 Government of Wales Act, making Wales-only legislation, arrived, and suddenly the goal-posts changed.

The Assembly government says interested parties, chiefly the 14-19 networks, have known of plans to make the pathways compulsory by September 2009 for 12 months. But unions and heads beg to differ. They see the proposals thrust on them with little consultation.

This week has witnessed unprecedented opposition to proposals to making the 14-19 learning pathways compulsory in less than a year.

It is not helped that the government, while giving such a welcome multi- million-pound windfall for the under-funded foundation phase, has not given anything extra for 14-19 in this week's draft budget.

John Griffiths, deputy education minister, says there is already enough funding and there should be better use of resources.

But if the government is not careful and fails to listen, it could have another foundation phase funding debacle on its hands. The Assembly government needs to learn from its past mistakes and proceed with caution. It also needs to progress towards a common funding system between schools and colleges.

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