Make the Pathways happen
The Assembly Government says there are six elements on this revolutionary agenda to which we should all be committed. Half are concerned with the Learning Pathways and the rest with learner support, seen in the all-new learning coach, complete with other personal support and careers advice. All of these, according to guidance, should be the entitlement of every young person in Wales as they pass through the educational system.
Since we are talking about 14- to 19-year-olds, let us remember that many young people over 16 will be in establishments that are not schools. They may be in further education colleges, working in their family business or even within the prison system.
What the policy behind the Learning Pathways document seeks to ensure is that by 2015, 95 per cent of young people aged 25 will be ready for high-skilled employment or higher education. There is a commitment to reach all young people.
I was pleased that a course for learning coaches had been created in Wales. Life-coaching achieves remarkable results with young people and so should learning coaching.
It is offered by a consortium of universities, with the learning coach manager based at the University of Glamorgan. The course includes a module on legislation and it is essential that anyone working with young people understands the laws affecting them. Another module focuses on coaching for learning, including exploring visual, auditory and kinaesthetic learning styles, as well as Howard Gardner's multiple intelligences.
An accredited student from this course is supposed to have worthwhile skills that can help young people achieve goals they may previously never have thought possible. Currently, the first cohort from the learning coach course has been trained. They are now practising as coaches, providing a valuable service to young people.
As a teacher, I would have welcomed a learning coach who could help change the mindset and attitude of some of the young people I taught. But the practicalities of delivering this entitlement to every 14- to 19-year-old in Wales niggles me.
Are we going to have to practise triage because there aren't enough coaches? If a young person is considered, rightly or wrongly, to be beyond hope, are we going to deny them a learning coach? Are we going to thrust the coaches at the most vociferous, badly behaved individuals?
Are we going to look at the results from CAT testing at Year 7 and spot any pupils in Year 10 who are underachieving?
I believe that good academic students will also benefit from having a learning coach. But with limited resources, who will actually receive this rightful entitlement for all?
Who is going to pay to train the learning coaches? One or two cohorts won't be enough. We are hardly going to scratch the surface until we have several hundred of them out there. We will need to continually be running training courses.
Who is going to provide them with resources and manageable workload? Again, it all comes down to that dirty word: money.
It was reassuring that the conference's strategic group discussed all this without a rose-tinted glow. We have the ideas, the goodwill and the drive to make us world leaders on the educational stage. What we have to do now is turn theory into practice.
Helen Yewlett is a former ICT teacher