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14-19 year old education proposals

Friday, February 14, 2003

Article for Sheffield Telegraph - February 14th 2003

14 - 19 Opportunity and excellence

There has been a lot of heat generated in the education world following the Government’s White Paper on Higher Education, most of it centred on top up fees, but maybe the most important education announcement was elsewhere. In the same week as the White Paper the strategy document on 14 - 19 education was published - a response to consultation following the green paper issued last year.

Over 90% of students with 2 ‘A’ levels go on to university. The challenge is to encourage more young people who have the ability, particularly those from poorer backgrounds, to obtain the qualifications and go on to higher education. Equally important is the fact that those who do not go to university will enter a world of work that demands an ever-increasing level of skills and the document outlines a way forward for them too. The key points of the strategy are to ensure that all young people have the basic skills of English, maths and science - but that there is more flexibility to enable them to pursue a wider range of subjects.

Importantly the strategy proposes an end to the distinction between vocational and academic subjects at GCSE and ‘A’ level, recognising that all skills should be valued.  Citizenship, religious education, sex education, careers and physical education will be compulsory, with all young people entitled to study another language, humanities subject, art subject and design and technology. From the age of 14 young people will be able to develop their own mix of subjects.

Sheffield is already leading in 14 - 19 education. The city launched its own strategy through the well-established Sheffield First for Learning Partnership in November last year. This is led by the key players in education locally - our Chief Education Officer, Jonathan Crossley Holland, John Taylor, principal of Sheffield College and John Korzeniewski, the chief executive of the South Yorkshire Learning and Skills Council.

Already schools in Sheffield are working closely with the college to provide a range of different options from the age of 14. This approach is being led by the needs of the students, providing the possibility of a mix of school and college with the opportunity for work-based learning - which means developing skills under supervision in a work place. This approach should have more to offer our young people, who are too often turned off by subjects they are no longer interested in.

However, putting together individual programmes for young students is not only time consuming but will need to take account of their individual level of maturity. Many young people going to college at the age of 16 struggle to cope with the more informal environment and greater responsibility for their own work. All 14 and 15 year olds going into college and work places will need individual support to ensure they can cope in these new environments.

Earlier this week Yorkshire Forward, our regional development agency, launched its 10 year Regional Economic Strategy. It highlighted the relatively low achievement levels in the area. Not surprisingly ensuring that we have a skilled, trained workforce is central to that strategy. The success of the reforms in the 14 - 19 educational years and Sheffield’s own strategy are important both for the fulfilment of the potential of our young people, whether at university or in work, and to the economic prosperity of our region.

 


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