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The sunshine was beaming down on the rest of Stratford "“ upon "“ Avon and smiles were the item of fashion to be worn as the populace strolled in the warmth. However, in one corner of the town, storm clouds were gathering as the delegates of the Association of Colleges 16 "“ 19 Summer Conference gathered in the main hall to listen to the speech from the Department for education and Skills (DfES).

The DfES presentation, entitled 14 "“ 19: A 10 Year Development Programme, was delivered by Peter Lauener, the Acting Director General of Lifelong Learning at the DfES. He spoke calmly and in measured tones to the assembled heads of colleges regarding the implementation of the government's 14 "“ 19 package, and showed delegates the timeline that has been set "“ mentioning that the deadlines are fast approaching.

Vocational Reform and Specialised Diploma Development

Mr. Lauener acknowledged that there was a great deal of disappointment within the FE sector regarding the government's rejection of the Tomlinson Report and its call for an overarching diploma to replace GCSEs and A Levels. He stated that vocational reform was central to the department's strategy and pointed out that, although in the same speech Ms. Kelly (Minister for Education) professed her commitment to the retention of the so "“ called "gold standard" qualifications, she also stated the government's commitment to improving and developing the vocational and diploma routes through education.

A key feature of the DfES proposals is the campaign to raise the standards of numeracy and literacy, as seen in the commitment to ensure that all those in vocational education will have at least functional levels of mathematics and English. He also stated that the formulation of league tables would be different from at present, with the rating accorded for five grade a* to c's now having to include maths and English amongst them.

The DfES plans, Mr. Lauener said, would seek to combine the very best of the vocational courses with the best elements of the A Level and GCSE systems, with specialised diplomas in 14 broad subject areas at levels 1 (foundation), 2 (intermediate) and 3 (advanced). The Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA) will be working closely with employers and universities to ensure that these new qualifications are ideally suited for the foreseeable future.

Engaging the Young and Delivering the Provisions

Mr. Lauener stated that one of the most important features of the new system was the drive towards engaging with all young people, with new entry level qualifications and a new programme for 14 "“ 16's for the most at risk based upon the post "“ 16 entry to employment programmes. This will be tailored to suit the requirements of the student and circumstances, with personal guidance and support, significant proportions of work "“ based learning and the eventual goal of a level 1 diploma and a possible route in an apprenticeship.

When it came to explaining the various delivery methods, Mr. Lauener referred to the power point presentation that was burning on the overhead projector. Amongst the multitude of diagrams and flow charts, he pulled out the important development in co "“ operation, with schools, colleges and training providers expected to work in partnership. This, Mr. Lauener claims, will provide a far wider range of opportunities and facilities for the student and will thus further the development of the workforce for the 21st Century.

The timeline that he presented carried the audience through from 2005 to 2015, much of which he stressed was still subject to amendment and would be finalised following further consultation with the affected parties. He admitted that the 2006 requirements and expectations were a tall order, but expressed his hope that this development programme would carry the sector forward in the way it needs to progress.

Jethro Marsh

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