Learner choice bites the dust

11th March 2011 at 00:00
Key policy to provide 30 subject options for post-16s is replaced by focus on `quality, not quantity'

A flagship policy to widen choice for post-16 students is being quietly dropped by the Assembly government, which wants to concentrate on "quality, not quantity", TES Cymru has learnt.

Schools and colleges are unlikely to face action if they do not offer the previous target of 30 subjects - the minimum number set out in the Learning and Skills Measure - sources close to the Assembly have said.

Instead, the focus will be on making sure the courses on offer to students are of a high quality and there is no duplication.

The Learning and Skills Measure, which is behind the 14-19 learning pathways policy, states that by 2012 all key stage 4 and post-16 students will be able to choose their courses from a local curriculum containing a minimum of 30 subject choices.

Schools and colleges have been encouraged to collaborate to offer a wider choice, and there has already been a shift in the range of vocational courses available.

But a source told TES Cymru: "As long as there is a decent choice on offer, with a reasonable spread of academic and vocational subjects, then there will not be a problem. Quality, not quantity, is what is important."

Rebecca Williams, policy officer of Welsh-medium teaching union UCAC, said: "The range of subjects doesn't need to be as huge as it is at the moment; 30 subjects is too many and would welcome a reduction.

"It makes it very difficult for schools in rural areas and you end up with very small groups, which is what they wanted to get away from in the first place."

Education minister Leighton Andrews has recently been critical of the "doctrine of learner choice", warning that it has come at the cost of "quality and rigour".

In a speech last month he said choice must be limited if strategic subjects are to be taught and key skills learnt.

The minister also questioned whether a narrower range of subjects should be taught at A-level, and said schools and colleges should "focus on what matters" in skills and qualifications.

David Egan, professor of education at the University of Wales Institute, Cardiff, said: "It's timely to ask whether we have created something that's fit for purpose.

"The whole point of 14-19 learning pathways is to increase choice, and I think we have been pretty successful in doing that. But can we be sure this is leading young people into further education or employment?"

Philip Dixon, director of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers Cymru, said: "The expansion of vocational qualifications has been very welcome. But we also need to make sure that money is well spent on courses that deliver jobs in future."

An Assembly government spokesman said: "The minister has called for debate on a number of issues, including what employers and universities want, so we can make sure our young people are following courses which meet their requirements and also ensure that the quantity of choices available is not compromising the quality of provision."

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