Rural pathfinder

* Lincolnshire, schools and colleges are facing up to logistical challenges in order to offer the new diplomas from September next year.

Boston College expects to be piloting the new qualification in collaboration with more than 20 other secondary schools - including secondary modern, special and selective grammar schools - across a rural area stretching from Skegness down to the Cambridgeshire border.

This partnerships' track record in offering vocational programmes to 14- to 16-year-olds stands it in good stead.

The college has been working with key stage 4 students for eight years. It has run courses for about 800 schoolchildren each year, offering a broad range of options including childcare, engineering, carpentry and joinery, and motor-vehicle mechanics.

It became a Department for Education and Skills 14-19 pathfinder four years ago, and Ofsted recently judged the quality of these collaborative arrangements to be outstanding. Now they are providing solid foundations for arrangements to offer diplomas.

Lincolnshire has already successfully adapted its 14-19 structures to run the young apprenticeships programme.

Under existing programmes for key stage 4 students, different institutions were doing different qualifications. The new diplomas mean the picture will become even more complex.

"The model we're going to be looking at across all our partnerships is of multiple partners delivering a whole qualification," says Claire George, the head of the 14-19 provision at Boston College.

"Some of the challenges will be around making sure we have got a whole-course scheme of a work and assessment plan, and making sure that the partners that are delivering the different bits know what they're doing and when they've got to do it," she says.

Lincolnshire and Rutland are split into 10 so-called learner entitlement clusters, located geographically. Boston College is the further education provider across four of those clusters. Its partnership aims to offer three of the first five diplomas next year, in society, health and development, engineering, and construction and the built environment.

Curriculum planning, delivery and staff training are all done collaboratively. Partners have all signed up to agreements on data sharing and information advice, as well as guidance and funding.

Common timetabling that has been developed for the increased flexibility programme will be used for the diplomas.

Gartree community school, an 11-16 secondary modern in Tattershall, has a bid to run a diploma in information technology in partnership with Horncastle's Banovallum school, Queen Elizabeth's Grammar school and St Lawrence special school. They are currently trying out synchronised timetables and are holding joint lessons at Gartree to get used to the practicalities of offering the diploma between institutions.

The school is also building on its experience of working with further education. Its key stage 4 students attend vocational courses at Boston College three days a week and also attend the young apprenticeship programme.

Boston College began planning for the diplomas with discussions over which partners were interested in providing which subjects at which level. As the process moved on, the college began working with schools in smaller groups.

It is leading a bid with two secondary schools - Giles school and Haven high school - to run a diploma in society, health and development, using each partner's strengths. Both schools have good facilities for teaching the diploma, while Boston College has experience in occupational childcare and social care courses up to level 3.

Other partners are signed up to allow their students to access the diploma, which will offer functional skills, work experience and preparation for employment.

As this rolls out, the partners will need to work on content, workforce development, resources, materials and teaching strategies, says Ms George.

"It is a real test of partnership and it's been a steep learning curve,"

she says. "We are still learning."

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