Banding fails to smooth 14-19

17th October 2008 at 01:00
New system to increase the number of course options gradually still meets fierce opposition

Opposition to a Wales-only measure making the 14-19 learning pathways compulsory in under a year was still fierce this week, despite Assembly government efforts to clear up confusion over the finer details.

Estyn, the Welsh inspectorate, now says its concerns over the introduction of the new law have been addressed by a banding system that will gradually increase the number of course options available to pupils across Wales.

Full implementation for some schools will not be until 2012. But teaching unions say clearer understanding of the measure's proposals has done nothing to allay their concerns over funding. Many still believe the timescale is too ambitious.

If approved, a new learning and skills measure will mean that clusters of schools and colleges will have to collaborate to provide the number of course options in their band. If they fail to provide the six key elements of the learning pathways and learning coach support, Jane Hutt, the education minister, might intervene.

John Griffiths, the deputy minister for skills, giving evidence to an Assembly committee this week, refused to back down on the timetable and said he is confident the measure can be "fully and properly implemented" by September.

But Gareth Jones, secretary of the heads' union ASCL Cymru, told the committee there is a gap between what local authority officers and headteachers see as achievable.

At present the 14-19 pathways is voluntary and provides teenagers with a wider choice of academic and vocational courses at schools and colleges.

Its original aim, as targeted in the 2002 Learning Country policy document, was to have 95 per cent of young people by the age of 25 to be ready for high skilled employment or higher education by 2015.

Now the Assembly government says the best way to achieve this is with legislation, a move that unions have condemned.

Phil Whitcombe, president of ASCL Cymru, warned that pushing legislation too soon would be a "recipe for disaster", and said a one-year delay would give headteachers "breathing space".

Chris Howard, national president of the National Association of Headteachers, said compelling schools to implement the legislation would be "self-defeating".

Christine Chapman AM, the former deputy education minister and author of a 2005 report into 14-19 pathways who now sits on the committee looking at the proposals, warned that forcing through legislation could prove "damaging".

Leading article, page 36


How does banding system work?

Each local authority has been placed in either band A, B or C following discussions with them and directors of education since the start of consultation in spring this year. Those local authorities said to be most well advanced were placed in band A, and those least advanced in band C. Eight local authorities are in band C, meaning they do not have to provide pupils with 30 course options until 2012, and a minimum of 24 by next September.

Have the goalposts been changed?

Yes, they were changed during the consultation period ending this July. Tweaks were being made up until the beginning of September, meaning the latest proposal, with the 2012 deadline, was not realised by many parties, including teaching unions.

Does a new measure mean we have to implement sooner?

The original deadline for schools and colleges to offer 30 courses, outlined in the 2005 Chapman report, was 2010. This means some schools will have longer to prepare. Officials believe the measure is necessary and in the interests of learners, but many heads see a new measure as unnecessary and piling on pressure.

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