Too many 16-year-olds do not achieve even grade G at GCSE, which is about the level of attainment of an average 11 or 12-year-old. Some 20 per cent of our young people do not achieve this in the core subjects of English and maths, and that clouds their whole future. To encourage, motivate and recognise their achievement must be a major policy objective.
Further education has long catered for learners who have been unsuccessful in school, and has developed considerable expertise. This is often through motivating learners in a new, more vocationally relevant activity, which may then be used as a basis from which to address the key skills of communication and the application of number.
Lower attainers: Criteria and procedures established by the regulatory bodies should be used for the "kitemarking" of approved awards at entry level. All awards below the equivalent of grade G in GCSE and the foundation level of the GNVQ, that meet these national criteria, should qualify for an entry-level national award.
Under-achievers: Students should be able to take approved GNVQ units at foundation and intermediate levels from 14 onwards, as well as entry-level qualifications, and to take those NVQ units approved for use in schools.
Further support should be given at national level to existing initiatives designed to provide motivation where traditional education has not succeeded. While school will provide the centre for 14 to 16-year-old students, education related to the adult world offers potential for those who fail to see any point or relevance to school. This is especially so if a part of the student's development post-14 can be in a different environment, such as a college of further education or the workplace, while maintaining their entitlement to the statutory curriculum.
The entry-level qualifications should be available to young people with learning difficulties. The kitemarking arrangements would confirm that awards at entry level are specified in such a way as to accredit small, worthwhile steps of progress.
Those with exceptional ability: Achievement by those with exceptional ability needs recognition in all three of the academic, applied and vocational pathways.
Among A-level students, the traditional recognition through S-levels has become much less used. The number of awards has halved in five years. The decline in take-up reflects resource problems in many schools in teaching small classes, and the lack of recognition given to S-levels by universities. Many schools, colleges and universities see breadth in achievement as more valuable than further specialisation. As a result, the viability of S-levels is at risk.
Special papers should be regarded as one of several alternatives.
The awarding bodies should ensure the continued provision of special papers. These should be based on existing A-level subject cores, and should be accessible to all those studying for particular A-levels, not restricted to individual syllabuses.
Once reformulated, consideration should be given to recognising S-levels through the proposed new UCAS tariff.
As an alternative to the present approach to S-levels, consideration should be given to externally marked extended assignments in which students research and explain a topic or issue in depth.
Schools and universities should take advantage of opportunities such as Associate Student Schemes to enable students to take units of university courses while at school or college. In a few cases it may be possible to contemplate a first degree being completed in two years.
Schools and colleges should be encouraged to extend the range of studies available to students through additional AS or A-levels, or units of GNVQs or NVQs to broaden their studies. For those pursuing NVQs, candidates might be encouraged to take units from NVQs in a related occupation or at a higher level.
Consideration should be given to developing a new ASA-level subject core for general studies so that it will have greater standing with universities and attract a numerical score in the proposed new UCAS tariff.
A course designed to develop critical thinking through a review of the nature of knowledge in its various forms should be developed either as a new Special Paper [S-level] , or as a free-standing AS qualification, or as a new option in courses such as general studies which lead to an A-level.
Removing barriers to achievement: Too great a proportion of students starting on an advanced GNVQ, and of students starting on two or three A-levels, do not achieve their aim. Close analysis shows that the "wastage" is less than the high figures often quoted. But it is still large. Excellent, independent careers education and guidance should be provided to all young people on their choice of pathway, and on their potential level of achievement, recognising the central role of the local partnerships between schools, colleges and the careers service.
The regulatory bodies (and other appropriate national agencies) should jointly develop a framework for monitoring and reporting nationally on candidate achievement by gender, racial origin, socio-economic group, disability or learning difficulty.
Entry-level awards for low achievers students with learning difficulties
Study at college or workplace for disaffected 14-year-olds
Greater emphasis on special papers and assignments for giifted students
Improved careers advice