In her first speech as Prime Minister, Theresa May struck a positive chord with educators.
Mrs May vowed to create a “country that works for everyone” and pledged to fight injustice, inequality and poverty. Her words signalled the welcome start of a new approach that would enable everyone to “go as far as your talents can take you”. Her government, she said, would not “entrench the advantages of the privileged few".
Those of us who work in the secondary and further education sectors know that, for far too long and despite the best intentions of governments, thousands of children and young people have been held back from achieving their potential by education policies that privilege the traditional academic route. As recently as 2015, 46.2% of 16 year olds did not achieve 5 A*-C grades at GCSE, including English and maths. That’s over 250,000 16 year olds. If the Prime Minister’s vision for the future is to be realised, there is much still to do.
The Skills and Education Group recently sponsored a report examining many of these issues. "Spotlight On…Young people with below average academic attainment and the skills sector", published by the Skills Commission, examined existing education policies and made a number of recommendations about how high quality opportunities for all young people could be better achieved.
It found that transition from pre to post-16 education for young people not achieving five good GCSE grades is at risk. The report recommends broader performance measures for schools or the inclusion of an arts or technical subject in the Ebacc suite of GCSEs. This would enable a broad curriculum platform to be offered to support the transition of all students – not just those following the traditional academic pathway – at 16.
Lord Sainsbury’s transition year, where students not ready for progression to a technical education route get extra support, is a very welcome proposal, particularly for the opportunities it offers students from disadvantaged backgrounds and students with learning difficulties and/or disabilities to get on, and achieve well on a good technical or vocational course.
The foundations for successful transition to achievement in technical education, however, could be laid earlier. Offering creative and technical programmes as part of a broad curriculum offer to young people pre-16 could contribute to supporting students’ success, both pre and post-16.
There have been some other positive moves recently. The bringing together of responsibility for all sectors of education, from early years to higher level learning, into the Department of Education offers exciting new opportunities for smooth transition and joined up thinking on these important issues.
At the Skills and Education Group, pre to post-16 transition is one of our key strategic themes. Working across the programmes and qualifications offered by ASDAN and ABC Awards and learning from our member colleges in the East Midlands, we are committed to playing our part in supporting opportunity and achievement for those young people who the Skills Commission’s spotlight report describes as having ‘below average academic attainment’.
We believe all young people should have a range of opportunities, through the curriculum and assessment process, that will enable them to demonstrate their knowledge, as well as their wider skills, abilities and aptitudes. We need smart ways of developing and assessing young peoples’ knowledge and skills, demonstrating their educational achievement and their capacity to perform in jobs, and giving them the confidence to take their place as full and active members of the diverse communities in which they are growing up.
There is growing consensus that our education system must evolve to meet the complex challenges facing young people in the 21st century. Our success as a country depends on it and neither we as educationalists, nor the policy makers who shape our education system, can afford to ignore the talents of any of our young people. At the Skills and Education Group we look forward to playing our part.
Paul Eeles, Chief Executive of the Skills and Education Group