Thursday, 27 September 2012

Who cares about the 14-19 phase now?

by Mark Corney

The key point about the Key Stage 4 reforms announced by the Coalition Government is that 16 is reinforced as the 'break' in the English education and skills system.

Up to 16, pupils will follow an academic education of English, maths, science, history and geography.

At 16, pupils will be tested on their academically ability.

And it is after 16 when young people have permission to choose between an academic, vocational or apprenticeship pathway.

Together, the Key Stage 4 statement and the Wolf Review have 'blown out of the water' the idea of a 14 to 19 phase where students are obliged to study Maths and English throughout these years but can follow an academic or vocational curriculum.

The break at 16 and the proposed English BAC Certificate is standard Conservative Party policy.

The Liberal Democrats have, once again, won key concessions. There will be a single examination at 16 taken by all pupils and no return to a two-tier 'O' level/CSE system. And low attainers at 16 will be given a 'Statement of Achievement' detailing their strengths and weaknesses to post-16 institutions.

Some see the reforms as representing 'the best thinking' of both parties in the Coalition.

Others view them as yet another case of the Liberal Democrats achieving a 'negative compromise': that is, making a Conservative policy less worse that it could have been.

For it should be remembered that before entering the Coalition in 2010, the Liberal Democrats were champions of a 14 to 19 phase of education and training.

A single 14 to 19 qualification that replaced GCSEs and A levels, compulsory maths and English until 19, access to vocational as well as academic subjects from 14, full time attendance at FE colleges from 14 and participation on apprenticeships from 14 were the central pillars of the policy.

Interestingly, the Liberal Democrats have begun a policy review of its 'post-16 education and skills' policy. Time will tell whether a 14 to 19 phase will be a central plank of their education policy in the next manifesto.

Labour, of course, had the chance to introduce 14 to 19 diplomas in office but walked away at the last minute. They also almost exclusively defined 14 to 19 in terms of qualifications reform.

A 14 to 19 phase needs a 14-19 funding system as well as a 14-19 qualifications system.

The creation of the Education Funding Agency responsible for all 3-19 education and training across schools and colleges should make the development of a 14 to 19 funding system much easier if Labour win the next election.

But, alas, leading thinkers in the Labour Party cannot get beyond age 16. Lord Adonis a called for a Tech-BAC to complement the Edu-BAC but they would be restricted to 16 year olds.

We are, however, still awaiting the full recommendations of Labour's 'Education and Skills Commission'. Maybe all will be revealed at Labour's conference in early October.

But it will be interesting to see if Labour and the Liberal Democrats come closer together or drift further apart on a 14 to 19 phase of education and skills.

Mark Corney is policy adviser to CfL. He writes in a personal capacity.

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