Learning paths under scrutiny

7th September 2007 at 01:00
Funding worries persist as government appoints researchers to track 14-19 initiative's progress

INDEPENDENT EXPERTS will start work next week evaluating the Assembly government's 14-19 Learning Pathways strategy, aimed at keeping youngsters in education or making them more employable.

The research contract was awarded this week to an unnamed team of contractors after a four-week tender. They are due to start work on Monday.

However, funding concerns are still hanging over the all-important initiative, seen as an answer to the problem of high numbers of young people not in education, employmen or training.

Learning Pathways was launched in 2004 with initial guidance. The Chapman Report, published the following year, told how it wanted all young people to follow a programme that will "develop skills, competence and confidence", backed by learning coaches.

By 2015, the Assembly government hopes 95 per cent of under-25s will be in skilled employment or higher education. The research team's brief is to follow the initiative as it enters a critical stage and make planning recommendations. But while some education professionals welcome the scrutiny, others have funding concerns.

Brian Lightman, head of St Cyres Comprehensive in Vale of Glamorgan, said: "The 14-19 agenda is very important. We've raised the hopes of young people but lack of cash means places aren't always available. We've had to disappoint some over vocational courses."

Collaboration is another contentious issue. John Graystone, chief executive of FE body fforwm, says so far the 14-19 agenda has been "schools dominated" even though most post-16s go to colleges.

"We'd be sympathetic to some duty of collaboration but at the moment we feel it's left to individual institutions," he said. "With the declining numbers of 14 to 19-year-olds over the next 10-15 years, competition could grow."

He believes curriculum entitlement for every young person aged 14-16 could speed up progress. "Small schools would collaborate with others and offer different things. It's about looking at things from the individual's viewpoint."

Curriculum entitlement is now being considered by Mark Leighfield, principal of Cardiff's Saint David's Catholic College, who has been seconded to the Assembly government for 12 months to develop 14-19 pathways.

But last year inspection body Estyn found young people lacked access to a full range of courses. It warned against duplicating and called for a review of qualifications against economic needs.

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