Struggle to usher in 14-19 reforms
ttempts to make teenagers' education more relevant to their future employment have been hampered by schools' desire to protect their league table position, Ofsted said this week.
Most schools are struggling to implement the work-related learning promised by ministers, and few are confident that the courses they have in place are of an acceptable standard.
Schools' difficulties have been exacerbated by the failure of local authorities and learning and skills councils to lead the development of 14-19 education.
Two Ofsted reports published this week identify key weaknesses in the Government's strategy to broaden 14-19 education. The key stage 4 curriculum report said: "Whereas most of the changes have been made with the interest of students in mind, some schools appear primarily to have been driven by the need to improve their position in performance tables."
It detailed how one headteacher admitted introducing a GNVQ course in information and communications technology, which counts as four GCSEs but which takes the curriculum time of two, in order to improve the school's standing. He told inspectors: "If we are asked to play these games, I will play them."
The changes, which came into force in September 2004, require all 14 to 16-year-olds to participate in work-related learning. They also allow pupils to drop modern languages and design and technology at the age of 14.
Ofsted found that, although most schools have taken positive steps to broaden their curriculum, they were struggling to come up with an adequate idea of what work-related learning would look like.
Some schools doubted the relevance of work-related activities - such as vocational courses, enterprise education, careers guidance and work experience - to high-achieving students. Inspectors' findings are based on a survey of 67 schools and visits to six partnerships involving eight further education colleges and 63 schools.
Ofsted praised the successful start of the young apprenticeship programme which is intended to allow motivated and able teenagers to study vocational courses at college.
The second report, "Developing a coherent 14-19 phase of education and training", looks at the results of 30 area-wide inspections carried out between summer 2003 and spring 2005.
Despite some success in promoting collaboration between school, college and workplace learning providers, overall strategies to raise achievement have been ineffective in a third of areas inspected in the past two years.
Inspectors criticised the limited use of school specialisms to enhance pupils' opportunities as well as the lack of impartial careers advice.
"The key stage 4 curriculum" and "Developing a coherent 14-19 phase of education and training are available from www.ofsted.gov.uk