In much of the discussion around the 14 to 19 agenda, the emphasis is on improving teaching and learning, yet the details tend to concentrate on the second half of the phrase. But has enough attention been given to the teachers who have to work with teenagers who have chosen not to spend all their school week in schools?
"The real issue is not the age of the pupil, as the pedalogical issues for teaching and supporting 14 to 16-year-olds are not that different from teaching older teenagers. It's more to do with the type of pupil currently being sent into colleges," says Lee Davies, development manager of the Institute for Learning, the professional body for teachers in the learning and skills sector.
"At the moment, it is the most disruptive kids who are encouraged down vocational pathways. Lecturers are more used to dealing with students who have a degree of motivation, not necessarily shown by the under-16s. But we are seeing that with a slight shift in teaching strategies these pupils can do incredibly well in a college or work environment. It is this good practice which we need to see cascade down."
Mr Davies, who was in the vanguard of lecturers teaching schoolchildren, knows things are much better than they were. He describes being "hellishly unprepared" to deal with the under-16s sent to Portsmouth college in the mid-1990s, but warns that many lecturers still feel that young learners are being "foisted" on them and that full support and training needs to be provided.
"The reality is that there are many teachers and trainers in 16-plus who chose that path because they wanted to teach older students. Many have come from industrial or commercial backgrounds and are more comfortable with adults," says John Clossick, standards and qualification manager for Lifelong Learning UK. "There are also those who are less familiar with pre-16 curriculum issues or with recent government initiatives such as Every Child Matters. Guiding staff through the complex agenda is vital."
LLUK, with funding from the Department for Education and Skills, has developed a series of online modules to support and help teachers and work-based trainers unused to dealing with the under-16s. The guidance is divided into three main sections: professional development, teaching and learning, and the wider structural and strategic issues.
"One of the most important issues for staff working with a new curriculum is 'What do I do on Monday morning?' The teaching and learning modules are designed to address those teachers' needs as well as those with more experience," says Mr Clossick. "The feedback from the teachers using the modules is positive, but we recognise that they are only the first step which address current and medium-term needs. Far more needs to be done. A much more systematic approach is now being developed."
Part of the longer-term approach is the creation of a post-16 teaching qualification, the Qualified Teacher Learning and Skills. QTLS will be introduced in 2007 and will be the first time the learning and skills sector has a qualification broadly equivalent to qualified teacher status awarded to schoolteachers. It will include the skills needed to work with 14 to 16-year-olds.
"We all know there is a long way to go before lecturers and trainers receive pay parity with their school colleagues, but QTLS will give post-16 staff a new status and professionalism," says Mr Clossick.
Dan Taubman, national education official at Natfhe, says the lecturers'
union still receives complaints from its members about being required to teach 14 to 16-year-olds but, while some colleges offer little or no training, the situation is getting better.
According to Mr Taubman, colleges need to consult lecturers as early as possible to assuage fears. "Most do not have a choice about teaching younger students and there can be a feeling of schools just dumping their pupils and leaving lecturers to deal with some of the worst behaviour problems they have ever seen." He says that colleges need to develop joint teaching models with schools. "They should bring schoolteachers and lecturers together," he says. "The sharing of information is paramount."
Mr Clossick agrees: "Trying to develop a new synthesis between schools and colleges is crucial. This means the development at a strategic level with senior managers showing effective leadership and developing communication from the top of local partnerships. Lecturers and trainers need to be given space and time to meet and discuss challenges with school staff."
Mr Taubman believes lecturers who are finding life with under-16s difficult should demand more support. "It is up to managers to find the resources from somewhere. If we have got to do this, we must do it properly. After all, we don't want to let young people down by getting it wrong."