14-19 hiatus

As 2016 draws to a close we are still awaiting a statement on the English Baccalaureate/ upper secondary curriculum from new Secretary of State. Justin Greening – the  consultation period for Ebacc ended almost a year ago.

Nicky Morgan’s – now largely shelved –White Paper Educational Excellence Everywhere reaffirmed the Cameron government’s objectives of a 90% participation rate in the Ebacc subjects, but with entry rates for Modern Foreign Languages (MFL)  continuing to fall  (in all other Ebacc areas they  continue to rise)  this has surely become unreachable? The Ebacc is not being prioritised as a performance indicator by Ofsted, leaving schools to concentrate on maximising their Progress 8 score.

Although Progress 8 is driven by Ebacc subjects, students do not have to do the complete Ebacc to maximise their scores. This explains why the provisional statistics for 2016 recorded a ‘neutral’ -0.03 overall average score for Progress 8, but only a 39.6% entry and a 24.5% pass rate for Ebacc. The Department for Education made no comment on this ambiguity.  Perhaps Secretary of State Greening would rather the EBacc slide off the agenda and avoid conceding victory to the well organised and high profile Bac for the Future campaign, we should still expect an announcement of some sort though.

But as a result of the way it has been constructed – and that Key Stage 2 SATs results are being used as the baseline for value added calculations, Progress 8 cannot be considered an improvement on the Ebacc or even the lesser of two evils. Indeed the recent Kings College research on the effects of the Key Stage 4 reforms,   sponsored by the NUT,  reports widespread concern by teachers about its reliability and workload implications. Examination data also shows that non Ebacc subjects continue to be marginalised and that large numbers of secondary schools are beginning their GCSE programmes during Year 9. 

Compared with Ebacc, there has been little, if any discussion about how to oppose Progress 8. Can it be reformed to allow a broader range of subjects to be included? Or should the main emphasis be on trying to find other value added measurements, rather than Key Stage 2 SATs?

2016 has seen the further erosion of vocational education at Key Stage 4 – the result of the Progress 8 requirements, but also Michael Gove’s qualifications cull   which has prevented schools using a ‘vocational track’ at KS4 as no qualification can now be equivalent to more than one GCSE, if it is to be included in league tables -the Wolf Report also recommended no more than 20% of a student’s timetable should be spent on vocation learning.

2016 however, saw the publication of a  post-16_skills_plan even though the planned consultation appears to have been delayed. The Plan sets out proposals for new technical route into employment (the term ‘vocational’ is to be discarded) with new qualifications planned for 15 employment areas. Though not due to begin until 2019 at the earliest, the technical route will be ‘college based’.

At first sight this would appear to have significant implications for school sixth-forms which have continued to provide vocational courses as alternatives to A-levels, but most of the Business Studies, Health and Social Care and ICT  ‘BTEC  type’ qualifications offered by schools are now classified as ‘Applied’ and will be  outside of the more occupationally specific technical track.

2016 also saw government continue to promote apprenticeships as an alternative to university for young people, the development of new ‘trailblazer’ specifications and the firming up of details for the employers levy.  Yet over half of apprenticeship starts continue to be only level 2 (GCSE equivalent) and less than a quarter are by those under 19. With any guarantee of progression or even future employment, most young people that can, will continue with the academic route with the aim of progressing to university.

During 2016 a great deal of debate has taken place about 14-19 education, especially the design and suitability for particular students, but there has been little progress with developing alternatives. Neither has there been a real appreciation of the type of labour market that young people seek to enter – the implications of changes in the occupational structure for the future of many technician level qualifications for example, or that large numbers continue to end up in jobs for which they are over-qualified

If the immediate focus should be on developing curriculum alternatives, then over the longer term,  because many young people are now no longer able to rely on education to ‘move on’, the real problem may be  its potential loss of legitimacy.

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