Time for cautious optimism

28th February 2003 at 00:00
If you are tired of your old party games, try this one: how many times in the past 25 years have ministers pledged measures to give vocational and academic studies equal esteem?

The answer is eight, if the TES has reported each one faithfully. And each was greeted with increasing cynicism.

But not this time. The policies proposed the 14-19 policy Green and White papers have seen a healthy return to cautious optimism. Why?

School standards minister David Miliband insists (page 8) that this time "we are starting earlier and attaching genuine courses to the reforms".

Mike Tomlinson, chair of the 14-19 qualifications working group, is confident that a real way forward can be found (page 5).

But there is another factor. This time, the plans are part of far wider reforms affecting schools, colleges, universities and employers. Three huge initiatives are together in the melting pot: 14-19 education and training; the Success for All strategy for colleges; and the Higher Education White Paper. If the jigsaw fits, in the words of John Harwood, the Learning and Skills Council chief executive, then the education and training system will be transformed to give the overwhelming majority of people new chances from 14 to 30 and beyond.

Another reason why there is more optimism could be that people in the education trade believe ministers who say they want local solutions found through collaboration and co-operation. They promise an end to the stream of decisions from Whitehall that have been the Government hallmark for 25 years.

To this end, the LSC is embarking on the biggest-ever round of public consultations over the coming weeks. Together with the council, the TES has published this special report to support the discussions. It outlines the policies being implemented or discussed and some of the issues raised, as well as looking at models of good practice.

A follow-up special report, LSC - The Year of Delivery, will be published in the TES at the end of March.

Ian Nash Further Education editor, tes ian.nash@tes.co.uk

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