We need more stability in 14 to 19 education

Written by: Dr Lynn Senior | Published:

Does the current 14 to 19 education policy help or hinder our learners? Dr Lynn Senior says we must have more stability in the 14 to 19 phase, and accept that a successful economy needs both academic and vocational learners...

The 14 to 19 education policy and practices have undergone significant changes in the last few years. Within the UK, there has been much debate around 14 to 19, with the age group spanning the two traditional phases of compulsory education and post-compulsory education up until the Raising of the Participation Age (RPA) in June 2015.

While the RPA initiative has removed some of the confusion around the policy, a young person at the age of 16 can still choose to leave school to join a college, take up an Apprenticeship, undertake home education, or take up full-time employment with training.

It is also usual to find the phrase 14 to 19 education linked strongly to the phrases “vocational education” or “education and training”, which creates further debate around what the 14 to 19 policy should look like and what its purpose should be in the UK educational framework.

The RPA to 17 in 2013 and to 18 in 2015 created the need for all young people to remain in education or training leading to a recognised qualification. In addition, the age is seen as a period of transition between education and adult working life and the policy initiatives that have been in place around this phase have all had, at their core, a need to improve the skills, attainment and progression of young people into the world of work.

However, despite all of these policy initiatives, the phase, while existing in law, does not appear to be championed as well as it perhaps should be. Indeed, the government appears to prefer the traditional divisions, which could lead to some confusion and contradiction around the agenda.

The key issue for the educator will be the understanding of the learner themselves and the wide range of aspirations, achievements and personalities.

Over the last few years the UK government has been committed to ensuring that our young people are more educated, more trained and highly skilled as a workforce. This, in turn, has led to an age phase having a variety of socio-economic and political goals, in addition to the goals of the individual learner, leading to potential issues of balance between the competing goals of the stakeholders.

Within this 14 to 19 stage, the learners will be facing major changes as they develop as young adults and, with that, develop their own individuality and behaviours. The provision of education may also be changing for them as they move between schools, college and the workplace.

We now need overall stability in the 14 to 19 landscape to permit staff in schools and colleges to develop the best education possible for students. We should not look to return to the debate and discussion about vocational and academic education, but instead should be looking at working towards an offer underpinned by coherent policy and educational aims.

As a nation we should not be concerned with all young people gaining traditional academic qualifications, but should accept that there are two types of people needed for an effective economy.

I would advocate the back to the workplace approach, as in the Apprenticeship route. While not decrying the value of an academic education, I would suggest that no one size fits all and for the economy and country to be competitive we need to have both sets of learners. Our 14 to 19 policy should better reflect that and it is now time for stronger employer involvement and a market-led demand approach.

  • Dr Lynn Senior is dean of the College of Education at the University of Derby.


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