Sir Ron Dearing's review runs to 700 pages, including five research reports. On these and the following two pages The TES reprints edited highlights of a seminal set of recommendations for the future of 16-19 education
There is much concern in all quarters about current standards of achievement in communication and the application of number, including mental arithmetic, and the ability to estimate. No other issues attracted more comment during the review from employers and higher education.
In English this concern applied to the written language and especially to oracy. For recruits at 18 and 21, employers are looking for a high level of skill in oral communication. They recognise the growing importance of competence in the use of information technology as a life-time skill.
In addition, they value certain general skills which the GNVQ is intended to develop, and look for the development of similar skills among A-level and graduate entrants. These include: working effectively with other people; presentational skills; a problem-solving approach; the ability to manage one's own learning.
Developing key skills: prime responsibility for developing the three key skills lies with schools. But employers and universities are concerned to see these key skills continuing to develop after 16, with students accumulating experience in applying them.
GCSE:To underline the importance of number, the regulatory and awarding bodies should provide a separate grading for those aspects of GCSE maths concerned with calculation, estimation, and statistics. This would complement the recent proposal by the Secretaries of State to give a separate grading for spoken English and Welsh alongside the overall grade for the GCSE in these subjects.
In information technology the NCVQ units in information technology should be approved as a basis for assessment at key stage 4 in schools. Schools should be encouraged to offer appropriate IT qualifications to all pupils.
A-levels: The A-level subject cores and syllabuses should be reviewed to identify what further scope there is to build in relevant elements in communication, the application of number and information technology without distorting the integrity of individual subjects.
A new "AS in key skills", should be created by the regulatory bodies. This should be developed alongside a review of the present requirements in these three key skills for the advanced-level GNVQ. But while the GNVQ provides a minimum requirement to support the main area of study, the new AS would be a separate graded award which builds on the skills developed pre-16. Assessment would be based on coursework and examination. Students should be strongly advised to acquire this AS, which should attract a numerical score in the proposed new Universities and Colleges Admissions Service profile and tariff.
GNVQs: The present GNVQ requirements in communication, the application of number and information technology at level 3 should be reviewed. The NCVQ should consider the introduction of simple-to-use tests to contribute to the assessment of the mandatory units in the key skills.
NVQs: All young people on NVQ programmes funded at public expense should be required to take advantage of the facilities offered for developing the three key skills, but the award of the NVQ should not be dependent on achievement of units beyond those mandatorily required for the NVQ.
Lead bodies should review closely the extent to which key skills are directly relevant to the competence attested by an award, and ensure that they are built into their requirements at each level.
The award of the proposed National Certificates and Diploma should be dependent upon achievement of the three key skills at the appropriate level.
Personal and inter-personal skills: All learners, including A-level students, should be given opportunities by institutions to practise making oral presentations to peer groups, to engage in discussion on their presentations, and to tackle projects through group work.
Learners should be encouraged to record their achievements in these skills in their national record of achievement and to gain certification through NCVQ units in "improving own learning and performance" and "working with others" post-16.
National Targets and National Certificates: To put the targets in clear focus in schools and colleges and in the minds of young people, and to assist measurement of achievement against them, a national certificate should be introduced to recognise achievement equal to, or greater than, national target levels of attainment. The national certificate would recognise both achievement built up over time and combinations of achievement across the three pathways that comply with the national standards.
Achievement in the main qualifications and achievement in the three key skills of communication, the application of number and information technology should be brought together in the national certificate. A national certificate should be introduced to recognise achievement at the intermediate and advanced levels. Consideration should be given to the creation of a national certificate at the foundation level.
Work should be carried out to identify those major awards, other than A-levels, GCSEs, GNVQs and NVQs, which should count for recognition towards the achievement of the national certificate at intermediate and advanced levels.
National Diploma: For at least 40 years there has been debate on whether England, Wales and Northern Ireland are right to adopt a policy of specialisation in post-16 education, or whether it would be better to adopt the policy widely practised in other parts of the Western world, and to a degree in Scotland, of broadly-based studies.
This report is based on the premise that young people should have a wide range of choices at 16. One option should be to combine study in depth with complementary studies to give breadth. To enable such an option to get off the ground, it needs special recognition within the family of national certificates, and a level of achievement that will command the respect of universities.
A distinctive diploma at advanced level should be created to recognise achievement in studies both in depth and in breadth, to be known as the National Advanced Diploma (the diploma). The heart of this award would be two full A-levels, or a full Advanced GNVQ, or a full NVQ at level 3, or agreed equivalents.
Breadth would be provided by studies in complementary areas so that four broadly defined areas of study would be covered to the minimum of the new AS: science, technology and maths; modern languages; the arts and humanities; and community studies (eg law, politics). For the GNVQ and NVQ a complementary approach would be needed. In addition, all those seeking this diploma would need to achieve standards in the three key skills.
Key skills to be included in workplace training
New AS-level in 'key skills'
Separate grading for mental arithmetic in GCSE maths