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Post-16 reform too fast, says vice-dean

Rapid change in pupils' post-16 choices is undermining the need for work experience in S4, Standard grade external examinations, and the basis of Higher still plans for further education, Professor Douglas Weir, vice-dean of the faculty of education at Strathclyde University, told the Scottish Further Education Guidance Association last week.

In a wide-ranging speech Professor Weir contended changes in work patterns, now evident in the United States and likely to come to Britain, may mean guidance staff should no longer advise young people to go straight into further or higher education. Nineteen out of the 20 fastest growing jobs in the US no longer need a degree, he said. There was a plateau in enthusiasm for higher education across the Atlantic.

Professor Weir, addressing the SFEGA conference in Stirling, argued the Scottish education system had yet to come to terms with the new reality of 80 per cent of 16-year-olds staying on into S5 and 40 per cent into S6. There were significant knock-on effects for schools and further and higher education.

He told the conference: "Since there are almost no fourth year leavers, as a national system we can virtually discount them for planning purposes. We cannot pretend any longer that S3S4 is preparation for employment."

It was now "misguided" for S4 pupils to spend time on work experience placements when they did not go into jobs at the age of 16. "The time could be more profitably used for other purposes," Professor Weir suggested. It was more important for young people to be able to transfer between educational sectors, including "access to exchange opportunities" between further education colleges and universities.

Professor Weir also demanded an end to Standard grade examinations. "If pupils are not leaving, you cannot justify a mass exam," he said. It swallowed a vast amount of resources when there was no need for a bench-mark.

Turning to Higher Still, he called for a vastly slimmed down reform which schools would be able to deliver. Only the largest secondary could offer the range spelt out at present. "We would be much better with 15-20 study programmes with a little flexibility and ensuring every institution could offer the full programme," he recommended.

Professor Weir believed Higher Still was ignoring pupil choices, such as the postponement of young people's entry into further education. "If young people are not choosing to go to further education until they are 17 or 18, do not try to get the FE sector creating programmes of 16-18 education no one is going to take," he advised.

Higher Still planners had still failed to address the problem of the interface between school, further education and higher education. If universities continued to insist on taking the Higher as the entry qualification, although their position was unclear, the problem remained about 18-year-olds in S6.

The implications for guidance staff in schools and further education were equally significant. Professor Weir urged a drastic reform of the promoted post structure in secondaries which was "long past its sell-by date".

The hierarchical structure, devised in 1971 and assimilating 52 per cent of secondary teachers, no longer fitted demands. One or two layers had to be removed and money transferred to the basic salary of teachers. Even universities had only three levels - lecturer, senior lecturer and professor - and differentials were much smaller.

Professor Weir backed a team of full-time guidance staff, fully trained and licensed to practise, and funded by redeploying salaries from promoted structures. He acknowledged difficulties in being impartial advisers to young people when staff were influenced by school factors. It was also difficult to offer advice when it was delivered in a room normally associated with discipline.

Guidance staff in school and FE faced particular problems in dealing with the increasing complexity of study programmes and the changes in the labour market.

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