Wanted: a better 16 to 19 bridge

28th April 1995 at 01:00
Sir Ron Dearing canvasses your views on post-compulsory education.

Nearly three-quarters of our young people now stay on in full-time education after they are 16. In fact 90 per cent are in some sort of education or training. They have, of course, a vast range of interests, talents and abilities. The choice of courses and qualifications open to them is large and growing. The world of education has proved highly adaptive to developing needs and has responded well to a succession of initiatives.

But there is widespread concern about outstanding problems. Like many others, I am deeply troubled by the high drop-out rate on post-l6 courses. First, because those who do not complete and gain a qualification may have a sense of failure. Second, because this is not an effective use of resources. Third, because national economic success will depend on the level of education and training of our people compared with those of our competitors. So increasing the achievement of our young people through their choices for further and higher education or, for example, modern apprenticeships is crucial for all our futures. We are as much concerned with the students who do not expect or aspire to go on to higher education, as the more academically minded.

In response to an emerging consensus on the need to develop our provision for l6 to l9-year-olds to meet personal and national needs, ministers have asked me to consider ways to strengthen, consolidate and improve the framework of 16-19 qualifications. The review is to have particular regard to the need to:

* maintain the rigour of A-levels,

* build on the current programmes of development of GNVQs and NVQs;

* increase participation and achievement in education and training and minimise wastage;

* prepare young people for work and higher education, and

* secure maximum value for money.

Gillian Shephard has said that she wants to know whether there is scope for measures to achieve greater coherence and breadth of study post-16 without compromising standards.

The first task is to identify the key issues to be covered by the review and to make proposals to ministers in July. Letters have already gone out to more than a hundred organisations asking for their views. But I am particularly keen to consult directly those who provide education and training in the schools, colleges or workplace. I shall be holding five conferences in late May and early June to get that crucially important input. I say "crucially important" because we must be concerned not simply with people's views about desirable change but with what is practicable and sensible in the places where it all happens.

I am also concerned to hear about what is good in our current provision, as well as thoughts on development and on change. Education between 16 and l9 forms a bridge between compulsory schooling and work and higher and further education. That means the review must take full account of the developing needs, attitudes and plans of those to whom our students will be going.

It also means that the review must be forward looking and seek to provide a framework within which there is room for the providers of education to adapt to a continually changing world. Certainly it must reflect a view, however tentative, of needs in the early years of the next century. That suggests it should take into account the rapidly growing potential of information and communications technology to become a major resource for the teacher.

Much has been written about the case for breadth in education and the need for the development of core skills. Competence in the use of information technology seems a must for students entering the new century and concern to improve the general standard of achievement in communications and numeracy is frequently expressed. How should we respond? Are these the most important core skills? How do we provide a framework wide enough to cater for very diverse needs?

The views on these questions will help me draw up an interim report setting out the key issues on which it will be right to consult more widely in the second phase of the review. In the second phase I shall ask for views on the issues. At the same time, I shall review research currently being planned into problem areas such as the reasons for students dropping out of courses, and into areas which may throw light on new approaches, such as international comparisons. I shall, of course, draw on the valuable reports and research done by others over recent years.

It is tempting to go on to outline the key issues the review must address. Two weeks into the job, that may be a bit ambitious. The real purpose of this article is to invite you to make your contribution. I greatly value the positive contributions from those who actually teach young people and who help guide them in the choices they have to make before they are 16. If you wish to give me your views on the issues with which the review should be concerned please write to me by early June.

Please write to Sir Ron Dearing at Room 659, Sanctuary buildings, Great Smith Street, London sw1p 3bt, marking your envelope "16-19 Review".

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