Spirit of vocation lacking
In the report, Choice and flexibility for 14-19 learners, published this week, inspectors say most schools are not entering into the spirit of the 14-19 learning pathways by restricting vocational choice in sixth forms and giving biased advice to "brighter" students.
The aim of the initiative is for 95 per cent of young people in Wales, by the age of 25, to be ready for high-skilled employment or for furtherhigher education.
Estyn's report, one of a series on the initiative's progress, says more work-led courses are now available in schools. The example is given of schools involved in the pilot key stage 4 work-based learning pathways, where able students spend at least 20 to 50 days per academic year on work placements
But chief inspector Dr Bill Maxwell says most schools are still lagging behind - a huge blow for government policy-makers.
"Schools do not always give their students accurate or unbiased information on the options available to them from other providers," he said.
He called on schools and colleges to harmonise their timetables so that all learners have equal entitlement to courses. Greater collaboration between schools and colleges is seen as key to the success of the learning pathways, although the report agrees competition for funding is a barrier.
Staffing, funding and arranging transport are also recognised by schools as huge challenges for schools, but the report says a "will to succeed" can win over.
By 2010 at the latest all schools must have their pathways in place, offering a wide range of work-related learning under the guidance of a learning coach.
By September 2007, all 14-19 networks should have developed innovative and collaborative "option menus". Schools must also harmonise their timetables in tune with vocational options or run into trouble.
The report also says schools which believe vocational courses are more costly should number-crunch. One 14-19 network estimates it can cost three times as much to offer traditional classroom-based subjects, such as English, maths and history.
The report also gives the example of a school where the cost of providing A-level French for one student came to pound;6,000-plus.
But Alan Tootill, head of Penyrheol School in Swansea, said: "Forcing institutions to collaborate turns them into competitors, who will not collaborate freely when pupils carry a set amount of money each. Surely the most basic market economics has taught the politicians that?"
An Assembly government spokesperson said: "We welcome the report, which provides a good analysis of the various stages of progress made since the inception of the learning pathways.
"Funding available for 2007-8 is pound;32.5 million, which will help to change the pattern of spending and secure better achievement and opportunities for all learners.
"The options menu will contain a wide range of courses."