Too many schools are dragging their heels on widening the vocational options available in their Key Stage 4 curriculum.

This is particularly the case for those with a greater proportion of higher-achieving pupils, emphasising the continued air of academic snobbery that surrounds these new work-related courses. In schools that have made progress, teaching and learning remains poor in one in five, according to a new report from Ofsted. Failure To Capitalise On Collaboration

Local authorities and local Learning and Skills Councils are called to account for failing to plan coherent, comprehensive provision across their area. But the inspectors note that the lack of a clear framework to guide joint working has been a key obstacle to their progress. More needs to be done to identify and provide for gaps in provision, to develop coherent progression routes and to promote more effective collaborative working between providers. Inspectors were particularly concerned about the sustainability of many of the new collaborative ventures, as they collated their findings of the local area inspections they carried out between 2003–05 on 14–19 provision. A competitive ethos between schools in some areas is causing particular barriers to collaboration and is ‘inhibiting the pooling of expertise and resources for the benefit of all local learners’, says the report. One initiative that is flagged up as a success is the development of a specialist skills centre to provide for students from many schools in the area. ‘These centres have been successful in motivating young people and keeping them in learning,’ says the report Developing a coherent 14–19 phase of education and training. Also having a positive impact is the Increased Flexibility Programme (IFP) programme, which has increased links between schools and colleges, greatly extending the vocational learning opportunities available to students. But where this has failed is in extending partnerships between schools. The lack of collaboration with specialist schools is noted as a key concern. These schools are failing to share their expertise and facilities for the benefit of pupils from other schools. This failure is in large part due to a lack of compulsion in the requirements for gaining specialist status, which only states that such schools only have to share expertise with one other secondary. Many institutions are concerned about the long-term sustainability of innovative partnership working, particularly when funding such as the IFP and 14–19 Pathfinders is exhausted.

Teaching concerns

The quality of the teaching on vocational courses is improving, but it is still weaker than that for Key Stage 4 as a whole, emphasising that more needs to be done to raise T&L standards. Inspectors note particular problems where the teaching staff have little recent industrial or commercial experience. Not enough is being done to provide effective post-16 pathways for students with special needs, point out the inspectors – ‘too much is left to the initiative and perseverance of individual staff’.

Support and guidance

Students are not being given enough help in choosing pathways – they are not provided with sufficiently thorough and impartial advice to inform their decision-making at key transition points, says the report. Much of this failing is down to staff lacking understanding of the vocational qualifications and progression paths available in their area, pointing to the need for more training on this vital issue. Many students are confused about the options available, and some are opting out of further study as a result. Competition for students is often having an adverse affect on the guidance given – the inspectors found evidence of schools and sixth forms recruiting pupils on to inappropriate learning programmes to boost numbers. The role of the Connexions service is flagged up as having a positive effect on students’ decision-making, but because these resources are stretched, these personal advisers are often only able to help the most vulnerable. ‘This has resulted in some serious inequalities in access for pupils to impartial careers advice,’ says the report.

Role of WRL in attracting learners

Promoting work-based learning is seen as a key way to increase participation, particularly among the disaffected. But schools need to see work-related learning (WRL) as an option for all, not just the disengaged Poor provision of WRL was in part due to a lack of understanding on the part of teachers and parents of its purpose, and also the limited access to good quality provision in some areas.

Becoming enterprising

As for the new enterprise curriculum, Ofsted’s separate report on progress so far reveals that there is considerable work for schools to do to embed this new subject firmly in their curriculum, and to secure quality teaching and learning. The report Developing enterprising young people urges schools to form networks with others to share and develop good practice in enterprise learning. Schools achieving most success were often ones that had appointed a member of staff to take responsibility for developing this area of the curriculum, often as part of a wider brief for WRL. The most effective schools have clear strategies for developing enterprise education that avoid piecemeal approaches and overlapping provision, and identified the learning outcomes they expected from their students. They located enterprise education within their WRL provision and used a combination of suspended timetable days, cross-curricular approaches and dedicated time, for example in personal and social education or citizenship, for delivery of this new subject area.

The report identifies features of good practice that curriculum managers can learn from, as they will need to ensure that quality enterprise education is available to all, not just the few. One area that needs particular attention to secure this in practice is to ensure all staff involved are adequately trained to deliver this new subject area. Another area flagged up as needing particular attention is monitoring and assessing students’ progress. This is particularly weak in many schools, which is not surprising given the lack of clarity in learning outcomes that they evidenced, say the inspectors.

Download the Ofsted reports Developing a coherent 14–19 phase of education and training and Developing enterprising young people via:

For more advice on developing your enterprise curriculum see the latest issue of Curriculum Briefing: enterprising learning – ready for the workplace. For more details, or to order a copy, contact Optimus Publishing on 0845 4506404.