The government’s reform programme to improve attainment and participation in education and training for 14 to 19 year olds has wide support at local level, including for the new Diplomas, which seek to blend general education with applied learning. The National Audit Office has today reported that the reform programme has met its key milestones so far, but there are substantial risks which the Department for Children, Schools and Families is managing.
Central to the reforms are local 14-19 partnerships, made up of key organisations including schools, colleges, independent training providers and employers. These partnerships are working with local authorities and the Learning and Skills Council, who have a responsibility to to make sure that every young person in their area has access to the full curriculum they are entitled to – including the Diplomas – by 2013.
Effective local collaboration through the partnerships is fundamental to the successful implementation of the reforms. Institutions need to work together to provide the full range of Diplomas because most institutions will not be able to provide every Diploma in full. This joint working has to be built on trust between institutions who may not have worked together before. Partnerships which have a history of collaboration have benefited from their earlier experience.
The NAO found wide variations in the preparedness of the local partnerships at this early stage in the reform programme. Those which are less well prepared will need to make full use of support from the Department and other organisations to make sure that every young person has access to the full range of courses by 2013.
The local 14-19 partnerships need to establish a complete picture of where staff resources, skills and facilities are within their areas, to make the most of them and meet the needs of pupils. The logistics also need careful management so that young people can gain practical access to the whole curriculum – with effective transport between the different points of learning and avoidance of timetable clashes. Most importantly, the partnerships must give young people good, clear information about what is on offer so they can make the right decisions about their future.
Involving employers is a crucial element of the reforms, and the introduction of the Diplomas is likely to put significant demands on employers. Over two-thirds of partnerships reported problems with engaging sufficient numbers of employers to meet current work experience requirements, and many expressed concerns that it will be difficult to engage the number and range of employers that will be required.
Local partnerships, individual institutions and training providers need to be confident that the reforms as a whole will be delivered effectively. It is therefore paramount that the Department gives clear funding arrangements and consistent guidance to partnerships.