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Volte face on learning pathways co-operation

Heads relieved as government backs down over compulsory collaboration with colleges

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Heads welcomed moves this week to water down an unpopular law on 14- 19 learning pathways.

At issue was whether collaboration between colleges and schools should be compulsory.

If amendments to the learning and skills measure are agreed in the Senedd, schools and colleges would not be forced into "uneasy collaboration" to provide pupils with vocational courses. This would constitute a government U-turn on last year.

Last week, John Griffiths, the deputy education minister for Wales, told a cross-party scrutiny committee that schools should not be forced to collaborate for "collaboration's sake".

But last November, he told the same committee that collaboration must be made a legal requirement to improve life chances for pupils.

"In order for the entitlement under the measure to be delivered, there will have to be proper co-operation and collaboration, on which there are duties in the proposed measure," he said.

"Of course . the measure will ensure that all institutions in Wales that are engaged in education for 14-19s really will have to co-operate, collaborate and work together, for the benefit of all learners involved."

Under the proposed measure, every school would have to offer at least 30 subjects by 2012, although this would be staggered by postcode.

Last week, the scrutiny committee proposed amendments to the measure, following their own critical report last November, which backed heads' concerns about forced collaboration and criticised the timescale.

Although colleges welcomed compulsion, heads believed schools - many of which were not prepared for the new curriculum - would lose out on funding.

Unions have been putting pressure on Mr Griffiths to drop his insistence on co-operation.

As a result of meetings to thrash out concerns, the measure has been delayed. It was meant to come into force in September 2009.

At last week's meeting, Jenny Randerson, of the Liberal Democrats, opposed relaxing the rules on co-operation, saying it would not encourage academically successful schools to develop a skills-led curriculum. "It would create a two-tier system," she said. "The duty to collaborate really ought to be the same for everyone."

But Gareth Jones, secretary of ASCL Cymru, was delighted by the easing of the hard line on collaboration, as were most other teachers' unions. He told TES Cymru: "Schools need as much flexibility as possible to cope with the diversity of contexts and needs around Wales for 14-19 learning pathways - not one all-embracing law."

He added that the 7.5 per cent cut in government funding for sixth forms, announced last week, would not aid "easy collaboration".

The committee rejected a handful of other amendments, including one that would have given pupils the statutory right to study the pathways in either English or Welsh.

The measure will be delayed further as the Senedd debates and votes on the amendments later this year.

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