Collaboration between schools and colleges may be at the heart of radical reforms for 14-19 education, but it is still being thwarted by cash concerns and a lack of trust and understanding.
fforwm, which represents the interests of Wales's 25 FE colleges, held its annual conference in Llandudno last week.
Delegates said they supported learning pathways reforms aimed at widening vocational options for teenagers. But they hinted at an uneasy alliance between FE colleges and schools.
While principals discussed the issues that stand in the way of collaboration, from cash to common curricula, the president of the Welsh Secondary Schools Association acknowledged that misconceptions between the two sectors are rife.
Jane Davidson, minister for education, lifelong learning and skills, quoted a recent Estyn report which said only a third of schools and colleges are collaborating (TES Cymru, May 12).
She said it was one of the most disappointing reports to cross her desk, but later reiterated her threat to withhold money from those institutions that do not collaborate. "There are still major institutional barriers,"
"We're putting pound;32 million into 14-19 education in 2007-8, and I've been unequivocal in saying that will be driven by collaboration. So if schools and colleges don't do it, they will be losing funding."
Bryn Davies, principal of Ystrad Mynach college, in Caerphilly, told the audience: "I'm interested in collaboration but at the moment we're funded on the basis of competition.
"In many ways that is reasonable, but collaboration is much more difficult.
"If I work with a school, one of us is going to lose out."
His views were echoed during a session in which delegates were asked to come up with the biggest barriers to joint working projects.
These included the parity of self-esteem between staff, the "competitive funding model", joint timetabling, travelling times, and a lack of county-wide strategic planning.
And then there are the pupils' and parents' often negative opinions of colleges compared with sixth forms.
Dr John Graystone (right), fforwm's chief executive, said in his speech that it took "two to tango" when it came to collaborating with schools.
He added: "Colleges sometimes have a reputation for being competitive. But the evidence shows that they co-operate widely with each other."
Tim Guy, director of the 14-19 curriculum at Yale college, Wrexham, said collaboration was progressing well, partly because there are only three school sixth forms in his area - which means less competition.
Yale works closely with a number of schools, offering vocational courses such as travel and tourism as well as academic GCSEs in subjects like law and psychology. But, with its hourly rate set at pound;60, Mr Guy recognises that the partnership can put a strain on school finances.
"If they send pupils to us they are not making a saving. If they broaden their own curriculum they are not making a saving. There is a real cost to what people are trying to do."
Steve Fowler, president of the Welsh Secondary Schools Association, said there was "not a school in Wales that could go it alone" on the 14-19 agenda.
A survey of his members showed 94 per cent wanted greater opportunities for schools and colleges to plan together, but only 26 per cent thought colleges had a clear perception of how 14-19 education will look 10 years down the line.