Pathways put rural pupils at disadvantage
Welsh-speaking teenagers in rural Wales will be denied their "right" to study skills-led courses in their mother tongue and disadvantaged by the distances they have to travel under the 14-19 learning pathways curriculum, say headteachers.
Ifor Efans, head of Ysgol Dyffryn Conwy in Llanrwst, said his pupils faced a 16-mile bus or taxi ride to their nearest college, but still had to be on the school bus home by 3.30pm, significantly curtailing their learning time.
He also said pupils should be able to study all subjects bilingually, but that this was unlikely to happen because of a lack of Welsh-speaking tutors and funding.
"All pupils across Wales should be offered the same options, regardless of where they reside," he writes in TES Cymru today.
The Assembly government faced a backlash earlier this term when it announced plans to make learning pathways a legal requirement from next September.
But it has since deployed a team of trouble-shooting officials to pacify teachers' unions, which are outraged by the proposals and complain of a lack of consultation.
Heads believe the new Wales-only measure is too ambitious within the timescale, and that funding is inadequate. At present, schools and colleges also compete for funding, which is awarded according to the number of pupils they have on roll. This could make collaboration difficult.
But the government said legislation was vital to ensure 30 subject choices were available to every pupil aged 14-19 in Wales by 2012. The aim is for all teenagers to choose subject options that suit them - academic, vocational, or both - so that fewer drop out.
Not all schools have the same deadline. There is a banding system under which availability of courses depends on the local authority a school falls under.
Schools in band A local authorities, for example, would have to provide 28 subject options by next September, while those in band C only have to make 24 available. Mr Efans' school falls under Conwy, in band C, which means it has more time to phase in learning pathways.
Officials said they had liaised with authorities to determine which band they should be in, depending on how far they had got with offering vocational choice to pupils.
But Welsh-language schools in rural areas are concerned about the lack of courses available in Welsh and the distances involved.
At a first meeting last week to discuss their concerns, representatives from UCAC, the Welsh-medium teachers' union, told officials that learning pathways failed to recognise the needs of Welsh-language pupils, especially in rural areas.
But John Griffiths, deputy skills minister, said the government was confident about its plans.
"I can assure the committee that if we didn't consider September 2009 an achievable timescale, then we wouldn't be proceeding," he told Assembly members recently.
Ifor Efans, page 37
WHICH BAND IS YOUR SCHOOL IN?
Band A: 28 subjects*
Vale of Glamorgan
Band B: 26 subjects
Neath Port Talbot
Rhondda Cynon Taff
Band C: 24 subjects
* The deadline is September 2009.