Post-14 blues

24th February 1995 at 00:00
The latest call from the Royal Society of Arts for a unified system of learning from 14 to 19 is but the latest - and perhaps not the most cogently argued - in a long line of reports around the same theme.

Among its predecessors are several from the pen of Sir Christopher Ball under the same RSA imprint, advice from the Confederation of British Industry and, most recently, a combined approach from all the headteacher and college associations.

It was after publication of this last report that the heads, from both state and independent schools, emerged heartened from a meeting with Gillian Shephard, because they had at last found an Education Secretary prepared to discuss with them the possibility of planning academic and vocational courses more coherently across the 14 to 19 continuum.

After all, the sainted Ron Dearing in his national curriculum revision emphasised the importance of developing a coherent progression from key stage 4 to post-l6 education and training. Opening up vocational pathways from l4 as part of a broadly-based curriculum was a key part of his proposal.

It certainly looked last autumn as if, with the major national curriculum issues settled, the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority would be free to turn its main creative effort to the related themes of the vocational courses for 14 to 16-year-olds, and the 14 to 19 curriculum as a whole. Closer collaboration with the National Council for Vocational Qualifications was finally happening, and even a merger was on the cards.

But hopes have been dashed. It now emerges that SCAA's l4 to l9 committee has quietly been dropped. Any work done by SCAA in this area will now only take place in full council, jostling for space in crowded agendas alongside all curriculum, testing and examination items. And that goes too for key stage 4 which, as John Dunford has recently noted in these pages, also presents critical problems for schools.

While a wish to cut out unnecessary committees and paperwork may sound like good, streamlined management, the decision also says something about priorities. The real explanation is more likely to be that the committee has ceased to exist because SCAA had no remit from Government to develop 14 to 19 proposals.

The reality, wherever Mrs Shephard's sympathies may finally lie, is that she has no intention of tinkering with A-levels or embarking on more curriculum upheaval before a general election. We are into planning blight and anyway, they are having enough trouble already trying to get the GNVQ right both pre- and post-l6.

In those circumstances, maybe it makes no odds if a SCAA committee is dumped provided, as some of those concerned have commented, that the issue is kept alive. Richard Pring, David Brockington and Roger Crombie White have done their bit with the latest RSA report. It is as well for others to be reminded that the debate should continue.

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