Care and share

28th February 2003 at 00:00
Erstwhile rivals need to learn how to share and co-operate, says Sue Jones

Collaboration, not competition, will be vital under the 14-19 reforms.

Acknowledging young people's talents at all levels, giving them more choice and a sensible qualifications structure has won widespread applause. But there is still much to be done. Judith Norrington, curriculum and quality director at the Association of Colleges, says: "We're very supportive of the outline policy, but the devil will be in the detail, in the practical implementation."

Institutions once in cut-throat competition for students must learn to share. Stuart Gardner, 14-19 policy manager at the Learning and Skills Council, says: "The biggest challenge will be to create individual learning plans at the end of key stage 3 that serve the best interests of the students, not their home institution."

He adds: "The greatest change will be to get away from a young person spending their entire time in one establishment. Finding themselves in three different ones - a school, college and workplace - could be enlightening, or it could be challenging."

But he is confident it can be done. Pathfinder pilots, testing out aspects of collaboration, will build up a "comprehensive suite of models". Over half of secondary schools have signed up to the Increased Flexibility Programme (IFP) to get greater access to vocational education for key stage 4 students.

The IFP is a "microcosm" of the 14-19 issues, says the Learning and Skills Development Agency's curriculum director Jenny Burnett. As well as agreeing on educational objectives, schools and colleges negotiate more mundane but gritty issues - timetables, transport, reporting, uniform and behaviour management policies - with support from the LSDA.

Ms Burnett says some lecturers will want staff development on teaching out of their age group and thinks more employers and work-based learning providers should be encouraged to get involved.

The Qualifications and Curriculum Authority's chief executive, Ken Boston, agrees. In the TES on February 14 he said setting standards for 14 to19-year-olds in vocational education "is a task for industry experts".

Assessment should be judged by performance "measured by industry-qualified assessors", not examinations.

However, not all industrialists would make development of vocational programmes a priority, says the Confederation of British Industry. It welcomes increased flexibility, but would rather emphasise "the basics: literacy, numeracy and the right attitude to work". James Binks, the CBI's policy adviser for learning and skills, says more people should be getting GCSE A*-C grades, especially in English and Maths.

He adds that many employers already offer work experience and produce materials related to the curriculum. "There is good practice around on teaching young people about the world of work, but it must be more widespread."

There is considerable support in schools and colleges for an overarching qualification for students aged 18 or 19. But too narrow a formula could limit access by deterring young people whose talents lie in particular subjects.

John Dunford, general secretary of the Secondary Heads' Association, says the critical questions regarding a Baccalaureate as compared with the present A-level system are "the degree of compulsion in different sections, the common elements, and the added value of a Baccalaureate that would be more than the sum of its parts." He calls for a qualifications framework to cover all 14 to 19 qualifications.

There is broad consensus that league tables will need a radical rethink A system giving parity to vocational education can no longer rank schools according to the percentage of students getting five GCSEs at A*-C grades.

But no decisions have been made; if schools and colleges share responsibility, there may even be a case for area-wide performance tables.

Complex reforms need greater collaboration. Stuart Gardner says the Government will acknowledge teacher professionalism in new assessment methods and in other concerns such as different school and college pay levels.

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