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Reforms fail to impress bosses

Vocational champion says he can't spread the message all on his own.

Nicola Porter reports

Vocational skills champion Peter McGowan has given a damning verdict on his progress, claiming he has lacked influence promoting his cause.

On the anniversary of his appointment, he told how he was struggling to convince enough employers of the virtues of non-academic qualifications and planned reforms of the 14-19 secondary curriculum.

And he revealed how a major recommendation of a report to First Minister Rhodri Morgan next month will be for the urgent introduction of a national communication strategy to back up his own work.

His comments came as it was announced this week that the Welsh baccalaureate, which incorporates key skills such as teamwork, is to be rolled out to more Welsh schools and colleges from next September. And a ministerial advisory group will look at the finer details of introducing the learning pathways reforms of the 14-19 curriculum, designed to widen vocational course options.

Mr McGowan said he had attended more than 300 meetings as the lone promoter of work-based training and learning in the past year. But without a change of mindset, he doubted learning pathways would be successful.

Mr McGowan, a businessman, strongly believes vocationally-led initiatives are they only way to turn around Wales's flagging economic productivity.

However, he said few employers see that the focus on key skills in both the Welsh bac and 14-19 learning pathways would give them what they want.

He said: "This job can sometimes be like banging my head against a brick wall. We need to be telling people not what is happening, but why it's happening. The reality is I cannot do that alone."

His comments were in line with those of Huw Evans, principal of Coleg Llandrillo, north Wales, who claimed this week that acceptance of the Welsh bac among local employers had been slow.

At a meeting of the Assembly's education, lifelong learning and skills committee, he said much more work was needed to convince employers in Wales of the benefits of new educational initiatives. Jeff Cuthbert, Labour AM for Caerphilly, said he had been disappointed by the lack of imput by the Confederation of Business and Industry into talks on the 14-19 pathways.

Mr McGowan has been seconded to the vocational champion's role until April 2007. His remit is not only the promotion of vocational learning, but to deal with schools, universities, colleges, private providers, Estyn and Careers Wales to improve provision. Employers have to go to schools, not vice versa, he said.

"The 14-19 learning pathways won't work if employers don't become part of this. They are, after all, addressing the gaps employers say are holding them back."

Mr McGowan is a part-time champion, and believes only working two or three days a week has helped him keep a sense of perspective outside the world of educational policy-making. But he said more help was needed from inside the department of education, lifelong learning and skills to promote the "fantastic initiatives".

Mr McGowan started his career as an English teacher before becoming head of Priory college in Lincolnshire and then at Waterside school, Herts. He is vice-chair of the Institute of Directors in south and west Wales, and a school governor in Pontypridd.

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