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Reforms aim to bridge divide

A new spirit of partnership ending 20 years of competition between schools and colleges was heralded this week as the Government published its proposals for 14 to 19-year-olds.

College principals and headteachers pledged to collaborate to end the division between academic and vocational education. Successive governments have tried - and failed - to change this culture, but the key players believe this time it will be different.

"Collaboration is vital," said John Dunford, general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association. "We have moved from competition over the past 20 years to a more collaborative climate."

David Gibson, chief executive of the Association of Colleges, said there had been competition for students at the age of 16 but this was lessening.

He welcomed the new spirit of partnership and said much was already happening.

David Miliband, schools standards minister, said that for more than 100 years the UK, and especially England, had suffered from weak vocational education and a narrow academic track.

The Government wants to change the language. Instead of "academic" and "vocational" studies, there will be "general education" and "specialist" studies. There was also a need for three "linked" key issues.

First, in the curriculum, young people needed programmes with a coherent blend of general and specialist content tailored to individual needs.

Second, assessment methods had to match up properly with the purposes of courses. Third, qualifications needed to promote progression to fulfil everyone's potential.

Mr Miliband said the UK was 25th out of 29 Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development countries in a league table of participation in education or training for 17-year-olds. Young people from professional backgrounds were five times as likely to qualify for higher education as those from unskilled backgrounds.

John Dunford said that linking the three key issues would enable the correct balance between the theoretical and practical.

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