Report and Recommendations from the New Visions for Education 14-19 Sub Group

The New Visions for Education Group adopted this paper at its meeting on 4 December 2013 and agreed to invite its sub-group to undertake further scoping work


The sub-group considered Richard Pring’s paper on proposed 14-18 education reform and qualifications, 14-18 – Ask what counts and Ken Spours’ paper produced as a contribution to Compass/NVG joint discussion, “One Nation should not have Two Systems” .

The context for the current situation

1. 30 years of constant, often ad hoc and non-enduring changes has left England’s 14-19 education and qualifications system in a mess.

2. The system is disjointed and at the mercy of the ruling political party of the day.

3. Politically motivated changes have adversely affected many young people, our economy and society as a whole.

4. Contradictions appear in party thinking e.g. Gove v Baker and Labour’s proposed separate track for vocational education.

5. Reliance on centralised policy and markets has led to the neglect of the development of an agreed set of aims and values for upper secondary education.

6. There is no evidence of a philosophy of unified education based on entitlement and equal value for all.

7. Schools have Illusions of autonomy within a fragmented system and issues of responsibility and accountability cause confusion.

8. Virtues of collaboration are extolled whilst at the same time enforcing collaboration within a culture of competition and an identification of ‘requirement to improve’.

9. Vocational and continuing education is devalued, whilst cuts to continuing education may have contributed to England’s poor showing in the recent OECD report.

10. Vocational education is narrow and would benefit from the type of enrichment as proposed for general education.

11. GCSEs provide for subject breadth but are regarded by many as the means of selection at 16+ rather than developing more diverse skills for progression.

12. Studying 3 A levels is exceedingly narrow cf other systems and students would benefit from a broader curriculum.

13. Elective A levels allow learners to avoid ‘difficult’ subjects and the focus on three /four specialist subjects leaves insufficient attention on the development of 21st Century competences. (Warsaw Centre for Social and Economic Research 2009)

14. A narrow focus on academic results, with constantly disaggregated subject scores with the goal posts changed with no advance warning, ignores the range of skills and competences required for the 21st century.

15. 14-19 education and its selective qualifications have a very direct impact on life chances. This phase deepens social divisions between those who succeed and attain places in prestigious universities at one end and those who remain NEET.

16. An increasingly neglected group of middle attainers lies forgotten in between. (Hodgson and Spours, 2013)

17. A damaging academic –vocational divide is reinforced by a bewildering array of competing institutions for 14-19 year olds.

18. 14-19 education is intersected by several reinforcing divisions that prevent the development of common expectations of all.

19. A regime of ‘high stakes’ testing has left many teachers teaching to the test and increasingly insecure in their pedagogical capabilities.

20. Warning: Any proposed reform of qualifications cannot take place in the shadow of an unreformed general education. This divided approach to qualifications has been consolidated rather than solved since the mid 1980’s.

What has to change?

1. What is needed is a 14-19 system that is sufficiently unified to promote improved performance and social and educational cohesion.

2. The system must be sufficiently diverse to include all learners and their different preferences and needs.

3. It is necessary to create a more stable and sustainable reform process in which educational professionals and wider social partners can play a constructive role.

4. Now that the age for participation in education (RPA) is being raised, this creates opportunities for longer term planning for the most appropriate framework for the curriculum and qualifications.

5. There already exist some 14-19 curriculum pilot projects e.g. Andrew Chubb’s Mod Bac and BetterBac that warrant further investigation. There is also the Head teachers’ Round table Eng Bac ideas and structure framework. This last has some merits but is it the most appropriate for all?

6. It is vital to consider the best model of Baccalaureate for adoption to meet the need for breadth, depth and pathways within a unified and coherent 14-19 system.

7. Respected enrichment programmes such as those from the Award Scheme Development and Accreditation Network (ASDAN) would fit well within such a structure.

8. There needs to be an acknowledgement of the changing situation between FE and 6th Forms; funding issues, staffing levels and expertise; facilities; limitations of small 6th Forms etc.

9. It is appropriate to take on board Mike Grenier of Eton’s use of the term ‘slow education’ to allow for deeper learning and progression over time.

10. The governance debate needs to be kept to the forefront asIt a means of counteracting national dictat versus local accountability.

11. Envisage a system of regional/local economic networks which contribute to local decision making within a national framework.

12. Collaboration and brokerage between parties in regional and local networks will bring rewards.

Recommendations for action

1. That the Group should make a strong call for a National Commission to discuss and agree what it is best for our future generations of students, to report in 2-3 years.

2. Such a Commission would be cross party and include a range of key representatives including educationists, politicians, the Youth Service, employers, parents, students and the independent sector.

3. A core purpose of the Commission would be to discuss and agree a set of common aims and values for education for all, and specifically for the 14-19 phase and also from 19-25.

4. The Commission would be asked to come up with answers to the following question:
’What should be counted as an educated 19 year old in this day and age?’ (Nuffield 14-19 Review); ’14-18-ask what counts’ (NVG discussion paper)

5. The National Commission would be asked to bear in mind the following statements:
‘One nation should have an inclusive, comprehensive and unified approach to 14-19 education and training’. (Ken Spours)

A new education vision that focuses on development through the life –course and prepares everyone to flourish as a human being; to be able to participate fully in society and the economy and to address humanity’s most pressing problems and by being able to ask the big questions. (Frank Coffield and Bill Williamson (IOE 2012)

6. That the Group should adopt the priority list suggested by Richard Pring in his paper ’14-18-ask what counts

Richard Pring’s priority list is as follows:

• Ask what counts as an educated 18-19 year old in this day and age
• Develop a broader vision of learning (e.g. practical as well as academic)
• Ensure independent, well-informed and professional IAG for all from age 14
• Get rid of high stakes testing and national examinations at 16+
• Provide a system of accountability based on the broader aims of education
• Formulate a national framework leading to an overarching qualification at 18, which provides several pathways in response to different learning needs and aspirations
• Respect teachers’ expertise in learning and curriculum and ensure CPD to create and grow that expertise
• Stop fiddling with qualifications until a National Commission recommends a system accepted by employers, higher education etc.
• Create partnerships between Schools, Sixth form colleges, Further Education, Youth Service, Higher Education and employers so that the broad aims might be achieved for everyone
• Ensure equal funding for students on similar courses, whatever the institution

Clarissa Williams
Sub-group convenor