Much remains to make the 14-19 vision into reality. Gareth Griffiths, 14-19 provision and attainment director at the Learning and Skills Council looks at progress in developing the diplomas and establishing collaboration between schools, FE colleges and training providers.

By 2013, every young person will have an entitlement to choose any one of the 14 new diplomas. To anyone unfamiliar with 14-19 these are new qualifications that will combine practical skill development with theoretical and technical understanding and knowledge. They will offer all young people different ways of learning and a route into higher education and employment.

The Learning and Skills Council (LSC) at a local partnership and regional level has for a long time championed a learner entitlement for all young people in an area. A research report recently published by the Learning and Skills Network (LSN) on behalf of the LSC in the East Midlands reviewed a number of these learner entitlements across England. Many varied examples of local learner entitlements are described and these are used by the LSC and local authorities (LAs) as a planning and benchmarking tool as well, of course, as a guarantee to young people of a range of high-quality learning opportunities. 

Significantly, most of these learner entitlements provide an offer not just in curriculum terms but also in terms of financial and learning support and in the provision of information, advice and guidance. The research concluded by saying that although ‘different areas were prioritising different aspects of their local entitlement, in accordance with the needs of their local community, the areas were not only very aware of current policies and documents and the objectives contained in them, but were totally committed to meeting these objectives on behalf of their learners and providers.’

Increasing access to vocational learning and raising the quality and value of these opportunities is a crucial part of the LSC’s mission as we drive forward 14-19 reform with our partners. As all of us in the learning and skills sector are acutely aware, we will only be able to achieve our goal of 90% of young people staying on in education post-16 by 2015 by putting the needs of the learner at the heart of the system. This must mean ensuring young people have access to opportunities that truly engage and inspire them, that provide solid progression pathways and truly recognise their varied starting points and interests.

Developing the diplomas

This is where the new diplomas and the developing foundation learning tier will be absolutely vital. We have been working closely with the Department for Education and Skills (DfES), Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA) and sector skills councils (SSCs) in the diploma development partnerships to ensure that the first five diplomas for 2008 are of high quality and really prepare young people for work and further learning. One of our biggest priorities has been to ensure that consortia of local colleges, schools and training providers are in a position to deliver the diplomas effectively. The first test of these consortia’s readiness to deliver takes place this December as consortia submit self-assessments recounting progress and ambition in collaboration, guidance, facilities, workforce development and employer engagement.

In terms of workforce development £50m has been set aside over the next two years to assist in delivery of the diplomas. There are four main projects being jointly delivered by a range of partners. The National College for School Leadership and Centre for Excellence in Leadership are developing a package of support to promote leadership capabilities, management development and partnership working. The Training and Development Agency and Lifelong Learning UK are securing the future supply of diploma teachers and producing a framework for CPD for current staff. The Quality Improvement Agency (QIA) and Specialist Schools and Academies Trust are taking the lead in teaching and training materials including subject-specific resource packs for each of the diplomas. Finally, the QIA and National Strategies are developing teaching and training materials for the delivery of functional skills. Details on all these programmes will become much clearer over the next few months and be in place for September 2007.

The foundation learning tier (FLT) will meet the needs of young people who currently struggle to reach Level 2, the level increasingly accepted as the stepping stone to further education and employability. For some young people, particularly some of those with learning difficulties and/or disabilities, reaching that level is a major achievement in itself and deserves recognition.

The FLT provides a ladder for progression to ensure all young people get recognition for their achievements. It will include a range of provision below Level 2 backed by simple planning and funding mechanisms. A key feature of the foundation learning tier will be the establishment of progression pathways; clear stepping stones that will enable learners to access a first full Level 2 programme. A limited trial is taking place in sites catering for 14-16-year-olds in schools and 16+ in further education and full implementation will be complete by 2010.

As the FE white paper points out, achieving 14-19 reform requires ‘much closer collaboration between schools and colleges, with 14-19 pupils able to study courses in the institution best placed to meet their needs and interests.’ The LSC remains committed to fostering effective collaboration, and we have made significant progress already in creating a mutually supportive climate between schools, colleges, training providers and employers through centres of vocational excellence (CoVEs), learning and skills beacons, young apprenticeships, post-area inspection action plans and the Increased Flexibility Programme (IFP).

The CoVE Network has been a key part of the LSC’s strategy to meet the needs of employers. CoVEs provide learners from all backgrounds with access to high quality, vocational training and spread this good practice throughout the education and training sector. Working in coordinated sector-wide networks supported by the new National Skills Academies, CoVEs have a particularly important role in helping to create the system necessary to deliver the diplomas. There is enormous potential within the 400 CoVEs across the country to provide high-quality expert and specialised vocational training opportunities directly to 14-19-year-olds, and also to share their undoubted expertise in teaching and learning in their areas of excellence in partnership with other providers.

Establishing collaboration

Crucial groundwork has also been laid by IFP in establishing a climate of collaboration and partnership throughout the 14-19 phase and in demonstrating how vocational learning can challenge and engage a wide range of learners.

The programme was introduced in 2002 to create enhanced vocational and work-related learning opportunities for 14-16-year-olds and requires further education colleges and training providers to work in partnership with schools to offer applied GCSEs and other vocational qualifications. 

Nearly 100,000 14-16-year-olds, over half of all secondary schools and three-quarters of all colleges have been involved in the project. IFP has introduced a more diverse curriculum to over 2,000 schools and provided pupils at Key Stage 4 with access to broadened provision and a wide range of qualifications in vocational subjects. It is unimaginable that the diplomas or the proposed entitlement could have evolved without the lessons learned from the programme and the lead role played by colleges in each IF consortium.

Evaluation and inspection have consistently demonstrated that IFP is yielding benefits beyond the school gates. According to the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER), 90% of learners undertaking vocational GCSEs and other qualifications through IFP elect to stay on in learning or training post-16 in their chosen vocational areas – precisely the target we are trying to reach in 2015. In addition, pupils taking GNVQs and NVQs through the programme have gained higher total point scores than expected, given their prior attainment and background characteristics. 

Furthermore, Ofsted and national evaluation suggest that young people are more confident in their abilities and ‘significantly more positive about school and its usefulness in their future’ after participating in IFP.

It therefore has played a key role in reaching those young people at risk of disaffection with more traditional learning paths. In fact, according to David Bell, former HM chief inspector of schools, speaking in 2005: ‘The message from students is clear: we like this and want more of it.’

NFER’s research highlights other encouraging pointers from IFP for the future. The majority of the schools (86%), colleges and training providers (92%) surveyed, indicated that their involvement in IFP had led to more effective working between their organisations.

Moving forward

Such examples demonstrate that much has been achieved already by partners working together at local level. We have undoubtedly made significant progress in many areas, but there is still much to do to transform the 14-19 vision for vocational learning into reality for all.

Now is the time to seize the opportunities available for local initiative, development and innovation. All practitioners and professionals are key to this, whether they are employers, policy leads or administrators, whether working in HE, FE or schools, whether teachers, lecturers or trainers, personal advisers, guidance professionals or mentors.

As the earlier LSN research report into learner entitlements indicates, ‘the most common factor of how success had been achieved was attributable to the personalities and commitment of those involved, their ability to be open and honest with one another, to trust and the desire to make change happen, to be transformational, rather than transactional and the ability to focus on successes rather than on contentious issues.’

Put simply, our aim at the LSC is to make this change happen. With the highest ever numbers of young people 16-18 in learning (over 1.5m at the end of 2005), success rates and participation also at highest ever levels and more young people achieving than ever before (69.8% achieving level 2 at 19 in 2005), we see encouraging signs that our collaborative work and partnerships are yielding success.

We need to ensure, though, that this success is maintained and improved upon as we move forward with 14-19 reform. It remains the published priority of the LSC to ensure that all 14-19-year-olds have access to high quality, relevant learning opportunities. We want to reach out further to those who are still not benefiting from learning and offer them the quality and range of opportunity that will encourage them to stay in learning and achieve.

This way we can begin to effect, what we at the LSC have set out to achieve, ‘to change young people’s lives through learning’.

Editorial comment

From time to time governments attempt to sort out all problems in one fell swoop. Kenneth Baker tried this in 1988 with what he liked to call the ‘Great Educational Reform Bill’, also known as ‘the Gerbil’, which gave us the National Curriculum and its system of assessment. Unfortunately, in order to get Margaret Thatcher to agree to this, he sacrificed the Higginson Report that sought to radically change A-levels, which would have had an effect upon GCSEs as well. Since then we have had the Tomlinson Report and seen that first go into the dustbin of history only for parts of it to be rescued and re-emerge as the 14-19 initiative. And recently we have seen the prime minister begin to flirt again with the idea of the International Baccalaureate, possibly inspired to do so because of moves towards a Welsh Bac.

We also have lots of different government educational agencies at work in different parts of the forest. In order to go forward they first have to find each other and then to work out how they can usefully combine to deliver educational policy. Gareth Griffiths shows us that they are doing this. In order to go forward on a sound basis, however, we need politicians to stop running after every idea a consultant adviser waves under their noses and instead make a serious attempt to solve the disparity of esteem between occupational, vocational and academic programmes and between teachers in schools and colleges.

Reference

Marilyn Hockley and Carol Collins (2006), What Is Being Done to Support the Development and Effective Implementation of a 14-19 Learner Entitlement? Learning and Skills Network.

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