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In search of the missing link - again

chools and colleges will no doubt feel there are mixed messages in the research studies on collaboration between the two sectors (page five). Most of the messages, however, are not surprising. Students who move on from school to college are inevitably likely to praise the more "adult environment": schools have to cope with conscripts while colleges welcome volunteers. On the other hand, pupils who encounter problems may well find colleges less supportive than schools. The transition, after all, represents one into an adult environment.

This is just another manifestation of the self-evident - transitions are not easy, whether from pre-school to primary, from primary to secondary or from school to the post-school stages. The school system on its own - never mind the passages beyond - has had to wrestle with transition issues for as long as most of our readers can probably remember, as a glance at our "30 years ago" series will testify.

The Executive's drive to bring more coherence to the school-college interface, probably the most comprehensive (to coin a phrase) for a generation, now brings another set of challenges. Its own research demonstrates that, whether the issues be funding, timetabling or staffing.

But there are other more fundamental questions, reinforced by the Tomlinson report from south of the border (see below).

The education systems in both countries, from the Brunton report of the 1970s and the Howie review of the 1990s in Scotland to Tomlinson in England, have long wrestled with the issues of "parity of esteem" between academic and vocational courses. The Executive's research shows there is still a way to go - schools in affluent areas are more reluctant to choose vocational paths for fear of disrupting academic priorities. Parity? We don't think so.

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