The aim is high and the goals are many but can newly appointed Education Secretary Ruth Kelly deliver on her promises? Even before the Government's White Paper on Education Reform was addressed on the floor of Parliament, many within the education sector were already shaking their heads. The 14-19 Education Reform White Paper has provoked a mixed reaction from many key education stakeholders. Speaking on behalf of the Association of Colleges, Chief Executive John Brennan spoke of the "wasted opportunity" of the White Paper. "The Government has once again underlined its commitment to academic above vocational education," said Brennan.
The University and College Lecturers" Union, NATFHE chose to put its distaste for the government paper much more bluntly. "The Government's refusal to implement the Tomlinson proposals is cowardly," said Paul Mackney, the Union's General Secretary. Mackney went on to call the "vocational strands" that the Government proposes a situation that is "likely to consign a whole layer of children to what many will see as low status learning."
Controversy surrounds Ms. Kelly's decision not to implement many of the suggestions made by former Chief Inspector of Schools Mike Tomlinson in his report to the government in October. Instead, Ms. Kelly opted for reform within the current structure and set higher goals for schools and students. The aim says Kelly is, "to transform secondary and post-secondary education so that all young people achieve and continue in learning until at least the age of 18." More than £1million was spent on producing the Tomlinson report, a report that in light of yesterday's White Paper, Tomlinson has called "a bureaucratic waste of time".
Changes To Vocational Sector
The major changes to the system will be within the vocational sector. These plans include 200 vocationally led schools that will be established by 2008, along with 12 skills academies. The White Paper also suggests specialised diplomas available in 14 subject areas, reflecting key sectors of the economy, to boost vocational qualifications. These can be taken by pupils at aged 14. All students will need to achieve at least a grade C in Maths and English to pass their diploma. The first four subject areas will be available from 2008, the remainder by 2015.
Ken Boston, the Qualification and Curriculum Authority's Chief Executive called the White Paper "an important step towards radical change", an opinion echoed by the LSC. The further education funding quanqo stressed that its role in implementing the White Paper will be to ensure 100% support and access to learning opportunities for 100% of the country's young people. "The focus of the White Paper is on the needs of the learner and on providing stretch and encouragement for all young people," commented Caroline Neville, National Director of Learning. Commenting on the proposed specialised diplomas, Neville emphasised that the role of the LSC was to ensure that they are "of equal status and rigour as GSCEs and A Levels."
GCSEs and A-Levels Are Here To Stay
Ms. Kelly would also like to increase the difficultly in GCSE and A-levels. In particular, she hopes to see a rise in the math and English of students between the age of 14 and 19. In order to do this she will introduce a new diploma to recognize those who achieve five GCSEs, grades A* to C or equivalent, including math and English. In addition, more challenging questions and a 4,000-word dissertation will be introduced for the brightest students. Sixth-formers will also be able to study university modules. The number of assessed A-levels will decrease from 4 to 6 but the overall content will not change.
"I"m delighted that A-Levels and GCSEs are here to stay," said Sir Digby Jones, Director-General of the Confederation of British Industry. "If something's important but isn"t working as well as it should, the first priority should be to improve it rather than just scrap it," furthered Jones. Also offering the government its full backing is the Institute of Directors. "The Government is right to reject the Tomlinson proposals for a diploma to replace existing qualifications. Rather than initiating an upheaval in the qualification system, we need better standards and results in schools," said Miles Templeman, Director General of the IoD.
Brooke Van Dam and Le"Nise Brothers