It is a year-and-a-half since the plans for 14-19 learning were laid out in the 2005 white paper. As we move into designing the diploma, it is a good time to take stock and see how far the original instructions have moved on.
Let us start with the money. Essentially, there are two main sources of 14-19 funding. One is the "demographic premium" and the other specific grants. The former means that, as there will be fewer learners in the future but the same amount of money, there'll be "slack" to fund 14-19 provision. This seems logical but shouldn't be assumed. After all, if there's any slack, the Chancellor will surely have his eye on it.
The latter is more complex. Grants are there to meet specific needs and it is not always clear which are for revenue and which are for capital.
So how do we make sense of it all?
Two helpful announcements can be found in the recent FE white paper. One is that different funding distribution models will be tried out "so that, where a young person attends more than one institution, each is funded for their share, as happens for 16 to 19-year-olds now". This will be followed up in local-authority trials.
The other announcement is that pre-16 and post-16 capital strategies will be pulled together so they can support 14-19 in any setting.
Next the scaffolding. Here one theme has been constant: the need to work together. As the Government says "schools, colleges and training providers will need to collaborate".
The local authorities now have the lead role as gangmaster. Confirmed as "strategic leaders of their communities", they are granted powers under the recent education Bill to ensure collaboration happens. Mechanisms to support this include local prospectuses.
Among suppliers, changes are also happening. Under the FE white paper, sixth-form colleges get a distinctive role, while FE has been handed the skills ladder. Elsewhere, schools may seek trust status and "high performing 11-16 specialist schools with a vocational specialism" may apply to open a sixth form though, under new proposals, they may have to get the nod from the local college first.
The FE white paper suggests there's funds "to allow the construction of up to 60 new sixth forms" but also accepts that "high performing FE and sixth-form colleges" should be able to expand their 16-19 numbers.
On top of this, new suppliers can enter the market through a 16-19 competition process "where there is a need for 200 or more places in a local area on the grounds of capacity, quality or the need to extend diversity and choice" (para 5.32).
Significant developments are also happening at the contractors' end as diploma development partnerships complete work on the first five lines of the proposals and hand over to sector skills councils and awarding body "technicians" to add the details. Some bits are already fitted in, including the functional skills specifications and the broad diploma components.
Other bits that require careful fitting together include the line-by-line fit with existing qualifications, the application of external assessment, the scoring system for grading, and accreditation and awarding processes.
Nor should we forget related activity at key stage 3, and in the foundation learning tier and A-levels. So plenty of hard graft all round for the architecture meetings set for July 2006 and the accreditation of the qualifications set for early summer 2007.
Finally, what about the workers? Support networks are being put in place, site visits arranged and training planned. A massive amount is happening at a local level. Overall, infrastructure change is beginning to feel like the greatest legacy of this project. This joint venture is a moment to transform provision for young people.
Steve Besley, is head of policy at Edexcel