A vision for a coherent 14 to 19 education system


A six-month inquiry co-chaired by former chief inspector Sir Mike Tomlinson has made 12 wide-ranging recommendations which it says will create a 14 to 19 education and training system that caters for all types of learners. Pete Henshaw reports.

A coherent 14 to 19 education and training system in which schools have freedom to focus on vocational education and functional skills, students get careers advice that offers them “real choice”, and where it is culturally acceptable for learners to repeat a year.

This is the vision set out after a six-month inquiry into 14 to 19 education co-chaired by former chief inspector of schools Sir Mike Tomlinson.

The Skills Commission inquiry finds that government reforms since 2010 have failed to provide a coherent system of education and training or to give “sufficient learning options” for those not following traditional academic pathways.

Its report, One System, Many Pathways, published this week, claims that the Department for Education (DfE) has no explicit 14 to 19 strategy and calls on ministers to “recognise” a 14 to 19 system – rather than focusing on 14 to 16 and then 16 to 18.

Ministers must also give greater public support to the “importance and value of quality vocational education and its routes to employment, higher education, and a prosperous economy”, it says. Furthermore, the report condemns a “crisis in information, advice and guidance (IAG)” for young people, and urges the government to review careers advice provision.

The Skills Commission is an independent body of leaders from across Parliament and the education sector. This inquiry was sponsored by City and Guilds and Interserve and evidence was taken from experts including vocational champion Lord Baker and government advisor Professor Alison Wolf, as well as organisations including Ofsted, awarding bodies, the CBI and the DfE itself.

Among the 12 recommendations, the Commission calls for a “loosening up of entrenched attitudes” about progression.

It states: “Our conclusions no longer tally with the idea of ‘age brackets’, but rather ‘stages of education and training’. This ‘upper secondary’ stage is where transitions happen, and is utterly crucial in shaping learners’ future attitudes to work, education, and other human beings. Therefore, if a learner at 14 would benefit from waiting a year before entering into this phase, this should be identified and encouraged.”

The Commission says that our current approach is contrary to many other countries in which repeating a year is “commonplace”. It adds: “If we really want to ensure that the system is fit for its learners, we cannot expect that all learners achieve at the same rate.”

Elsewhere, the Commission calls for consideration to be given to the splitting of GCSE mathematics into functional and pure maths qualifications. It states: “The current system is far too focused on ability through static measures of quality, and has the wrong focus on English and mathematics, rather than on functional skills.

“We welcome an increased amount of functional skills in the mathematics GCSE, but would like to see much more of this in the English GCSE. In fact, we believe this skill-set to be so crucial to the future health of the economy, that we believe a ‘pass’ at GCSE level in English and mathematics should be contingent upon a pass in this area of the examination.”

There should also be more time spent by schools on technical and vocational teaching. The report continues: “A greater amount of technical pedagogy within schools would be of great help in achieving higher standards of functional numeracy for particular kinds of learners. This will not come about unless the DfE reconsiders the amount of time allocated for 14 to 16-year-olds to spend on technical and vocational qualifications and training.”

Apprenticeships for 16 to 18-year-olds also need to be “urgently” expanded, the report says. It calls on the DfE to reintroduce the Young Apprenticeship programme too, which it says was “a real success story in encouraging disengaged learners”.

As a whole, the Commission says the government must start to think in terms of a 14 to 19 system – especially in light of the raising of the participation age to 18 by 2015.

It says that an increasing diversity of institutions, ranging from further education colleges and university technical colleges, to studio schools and new careers colleges, means we need a “rethinking of the system as a whole, ensuring that it is operating cohesively”.

It also demands that the DfE “immediately acknowledge the crisis in information, advice, and guidance, and undertake a full review of provision”. The government handed the duty to deliver careers guidance to schools in 2012, but without any additional funding many have struggled. The inquiry says that the current system for 14 to 19-year-olds is “inadequate”.

The report states: “(The) government must intervene before more learners leave this transition phase with scant clear knowledge from their educational provider about how their skills might translate into worthwhile employment. There is clear evidence that strong IAG is a critical part of enabling real choice for learners.”

The inquiry says that government must ensure “quality of provision and access to trained and independent advisors”.

Sir Mike said: “Our vision for learners is of one, encompassing, coherent system of education and training that is characterised by a diversity of pathways, with clear routes of progression to employment, further training or higher education – whatever is right for the learner. Rigorous academic pathways into higher education is vital. But we must be mindful that recent reforms’ focus on academic rigour does not come at the expense of other pathways to employment, further training and, indeed, higher education.”

You can download the report at http://bit.ly/1823nbv


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