Colleges oppose A-level lobby
A new steering group including leading figures from the further education sector wants to ensure colleges are not left in the cold in the implementation of recommendations from Sir Ron Dearing, the Government's curriculum fixer.
Principals are anxious that schools could become the focus of the reforms, with A-levels still the quality touchstone.
Colleges are the first to break the near consensus welcoming Sir Ron's report, published last month. Some in the sector believe colleges will end up losing out to schools.
The steering group emerged from a conference on the Dearing proposals held by the Further Education Development Agency. One prominent northern principal claimed FE could end up merely "picking up the bits and pieces".
He said: "There was concern that the report is very woolly. It fudges everything and makes no recommendations of any substance."
FEDA insists the vision underpinning Sir Ron's report is supported by the steering group, but admits to concerns over implementation.
One recommendation which set alarm bells ringing in the sector is that disaffected 14-year-olds could go to college part-time. While many colleges already run successful ad-hoc programmes along similar lines, principals fear a change could lead to the creation of "sink institutions" of troublemakers.
The group is also concerned that A-level-style assessment methods could end up dominating new qualifications, harming the vocational curriculum. The Dearing report proposes increasing the rigour of general national vocational qualifications using stricter external assessment, and renaming them applied A-levels.
Ms Caroline Mager, a member of Sir Ron's review team, said: "If we want all our qualifications to be deliverable in schools then we will lose that hard vocational edge. There is an anxiety that unless what is distinctive about FE is really clearly spelt out it could be lost."
Another source close to the new group said: "Unless we can argue that other forms of assessment which are more appropriate to a traditional vocational education are equally valid then we will end up with GNVQs becoming more like A-levels and NVQs becoming more like external tests.
"The politicians and policy-makers understand schools but do not know what colleges are about."
Throughout his consultation, fears were raised that Sir Ron would bow to pressure from Tory traditionalists to preserve the A-level "gold standard".
Many in FE were disappointed Sir Ron, who aimed to break down the academicvocational divide, opted to keep separate pathways rather than create a fully modularised system.
He is seen as having ditched more radical proposals to get his report implemented. The steering group will put its case to the Education and Employment Secretary Gillian Shephard.