School reforms - the grassroots view

24 Jun 2009

I am nearing the end of chairing five national conferences on the 14-19 reforms in England's schools. We've had a good turnout of head teachers, deputies and college principals. It has been an interesting finger on the pulse of how the education world is thinking about diplomas, functional skills, and the raising of the education-leaving age to 18. 

It's fair to say, I think, that there is still enthusiasm for the ideas behind the 14-19 reforms: applied learning to bridge the academic/vocational divide, a focus on functional skills for all students, and providing something worthwhile for those 17 and 18 year-olds who will soon be required to stay on in education.

But there is also wariness for the following reasons:

  • fear the reforms will not survive a change of government.
  • the difficulties of collaborative working with other schools/colleges (e.g. aligning timetables).
  • the practical problems associated with moving students around between schools and colleges (necessary since no single institution can offer the full range of diplomas).
  • lack of information about how Functional Skills will work.
  • uncertainty about future funding for extra cost of teaching diplomas. 

The positives seem to be:

  • institutions like partnership working and welcome this new approach (which contrasts with accountability measures which appear to set schools in competition with each other).
  • applied learning can motivate and excite many students.
  • employer engagement is good (providing you can find enough of them to take part).
  • there are genuine pedagogic changes which can flow from new ways of teaching the reforms. 

What is needed now is a solid rise in student numbers on diploma courses from September (it looks as if there could be 40,000 starting, which would certainly cement the reforms) and a clear commitment from the Conservatives that the diplomas (at least the first 14) are here to stay and will be funded in future.


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