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John Simkin

14-19 Reform

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The Mike Tomlinson working group's interim report published yesterday calls for a root and branch overhaul of the curriculum and qualifications for 14- to 19-year-olds. It proposes absorbing GCSEs and A levels into a new system of diplomas, which would allow students to continue specialising in their chosen subjects, but would also require them to have the numeracy and communication skills needed for modern life, and to demonstrate other skills such as the ability to work in a team and to study independently. The proposals would sweep away the present qualifications framework and would introduce a system of diplomas at four levels: entry, foundation (roughly equivalent to GCSE grades D-G), intermediate (at the level of to GCSE grades A*-C) and advanced (like A levels or advanced vocational courses). The aim would be to create "a flexible ladder of progression" which all students could climb, with each level leading on to those above, and vocational courses valued equally beside academic counterparts. Students would take courses when they were ready rather than at set ages.

I would be interested in hearing member's views on the proposals.

http://www.14-19reform.gov.uk/index.cfm

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I don't see anything there that suggests how running these different levels would be funded. Surely this will result in a system not dissimilar to Grammar Schools / Technical Schools / Secondary Moderns?

For example: The school I work in has maybe 20% of students who fit into the 'Intermediate' band. My subject, history, is optional. So, I get a % of that 20% wanting to do the course - the rest, I'm assuming would be doing a different kind of course at Foundation level. History is suddenly not viable at GCSE, nor is Geography, French or any of the other non compulsory subjects. The most able students therefore have a simple choice: accept whatever's left or go elsewhere. I doubt many will stay for second best: therefore we become selective by courses offered. A Technical School with a more modern name.

In discussions in school it has already been noted that, "collaboration between partner schools will be neccessary for some subject areas at Key Stage 4." In many areas this could be the final nail in the coffin of 'traditional' subjects.

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There are several things to like about the initial proposal. In many ways the structure of the diploma will be like an OU degree. I particularly like the way that the academic and vocational will be integrated into the same qualification. I also like the idea of less coursework and more teacher assessment of pupils’ routine work.

My main concern is about the future of certain academic subjects. At the moment the compulsory core only includes communication, maths, ICT plus a research project. (Skills such as problem-solving, independent learning and team working will also be assessed in each diploma). I would also like to see a citizenship course as part of the core (a combination of history, politics and sociology).

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The reform looks good and is needed. Certainly the array of vocational qualifications that exist at the moment is confusing even for those who work with it day in day out. I'm a little concerned that with the sweeping changes, they may throw the baby out with the bathwater. Although it's hard to find them, there are some good features of the present system. At one stage the working party proposed not grading the diplomas. This would result in a bunching of Advanced Diploma graduates. Universities and employers would not be able to discriminate those at the top middle and lower ends of this band without further testing. The proposal for grading is under review now I believe.

Many of the identified problems with the current system especially at post 16 arose from the reforms in 2000 which created a horrendously complex assessment procedure and overloaded curriculum. I was part of a working group at that time, formulating GCSE and A level specifications and we were under very strict guidelines from QCA about the proportion of teacher and external assessment and the complex curriculum. We all saw the problems coming, including exam board administration nightmares which quickly emerged. Curriculum 2000 was a missed opportunity to make the big reforms in my view.

Edited by Rob Jones

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