(though Leslie Huckfield was one of the contributors at this event, this is posted as an objective summary of the day’s events)

Patrick Highton, Executive Director of the Black Country Learning Partnership, who had organised the Conference, welcomed colleagues to what he described as a timely event.

There were ongoing Consultations and Responses on 14 to 16 year old Qualifications and Performance Tables,  Study Programmes for 16 to 19 year olds and on 16 to 19 years funding.

  • Consultations on Study Programmes and on funding were still open.
  • Some contributions, including a paper during the afternoon on employers and qualifications, fitted alongside recent Government announcements.  

Pat introduced the first speaker on “Keynote Input – Should we welcome Wolf”.

John Freeman, Chair of Dudley College Corporation, related his background in Children’s Services and Education. His was a personal view. These were John’s main points:

  •  He thought Alison Wolf’s Report “should welcomed  ..but”.  He agreed that too many young people were leaving schools and colleges demotivated.
  • There was a need to match Wolf’s rhetoric with the reality. In 1988 he had devised TVEI entitlements for all 14 to 19s in Birmingham.  But this was then scuppered by the National Curriculum.
  •  Throughout all this, there was a need to build incentives and disciplines. Wolf was showing how things might work. But who would decide all this?
  •  In a speech in Cambridge reported in the Daily Mail, by Michael Gove, Education Secretary, said he wanted educational establishments to be “elitist”.

(On a personal note,  Michael Gove’s Cambridge speech on Thursday 24 November is detailed and thoughtful. Gove’s chosen theme was Gladstone’s 1879 Third Midlothian Address to Scottish miners and agricultural labourers and included some good points.)

John continued that:

  • Wolf had asked whether it was right that lower attainers should focus on the “core academic skills of English and Maths” and whether young people should be asked to pursue these qualifications.   (As shown below, GCSE Maths and English became a major preoccupation for the rest of the day)
  • While this aim was right, the implementation was wrong. For many young people, focusing on GCSEs would not work.
  • On many of Wolf’s Recommendations, the devil was in the detail. He supported Recommendation 3 on a Common Core, but felt that lower post 16 attainers needed a special curriculum and not English and Maths. He supported a review of Apprenticeship Frameworks but was concerned about Michael Gove’s emphasis on end of course examinations.
  • On Wolf’s recommendation that colleges could enrol under 16 Key Stage 4, he felt that this would increase the downward demographic pressure on schools too.
  • He supported Performance Indicators for schools but stressed that Indicators should focus on what we valued.
  • He conclusion was that the Wolf Report should be supported, but with reservations. Much of Wolf’s content had gone around and come around. We needed to think about lessons from past.
  • The key role for those running colleges and schools was to must carry out their locally determined missions in the context of national policy. They must make sense locally of national policies.

Mike Cox, Head of Business Development at the Learning and Skills Improvement Service, spoke on the 14 to 19 Landscape and the Impact of Wolf. He told his personal story as engineer and running a company. These were Mike’s main points:

  • He was proud of his craft background space. His experience took him back to Ted Heath’s Three Day Week.  He was emphatic that we should not lose those things we had already gained.
  • While running an engineering company, he knew that competition from the Far East and the firm’s survival meant using the latest technology. He regaled his success buying second hand German Computer Numerically Controlled lathes and machine tools for less than £100,000 – much less than their original value  – only to find that no one in his company had the skills to use them.
  • So his company set up its own internal training course and soon had 180 learners on courses to operate CNC machines. Workers felt that they were putting their course training to practical use with these machines.
  • Alongside this practical training, he had seen many graduates coming into the company without any work skills. This was why the 14 to 19 agenda was so important.
  • A previous Government’s ‘Increased Flexibilities’ programme for 14 to 16 year olds which was introduced in 2002, formed the basis for many current 14 to 19 policies. There was a need to build on these previous collaborations.

(Mike is right to refer to the ‘Increased Flexibilities’ programme. The 2004 Evaluation of the Programme was positive.  A total of 269 partnerships between schools and external providers were formed in the first year.  This £80 million programme sought to ‘create enhanced vocational and work-related learning opportunities for 14-16 year olds of all abilities who can benefit most’.  Students chose to participate in the programme because they were interested in a vocational area and because it was related to a career interest )

Mike concluded that we should welcome Wolf, but in doing so should make the most of vocational education which already existed.

Tessa Griffiths from the DfE Wolf Implementation Team spoke on the “Priorities and Timelines for Vocational Education Following the Wolf Recommendations”.  These were Tessa’s main points:

  • Vocational education was more important in difficult economic times.
  • The main focus was on simplifying apprenticeships,  improving the vocational offer for 14 to 16s and strengthening the principles of 16 to 19 vocational education. There would be soon be announcements of further support for smaller employers taking on apprentice.
  • For 14 to 16s, Alison Wolf was concerned about the impact of performance tables on schools’ behaviour. Though these promoted vocational elements in schools, there had been a massive 4000 increase of vocational qualifications for Key Stage 4, many of which didn’t lead anywhere. Because of this Wolf advocated that there should be an academic Common Core for KS4. Much work related training at KS4 had little value.
  • DfE had already carried out a consultation during summer on reform equivalencies. Equivalences would be removed. One qualification would count for one.
  • DfE would include only highest quality vocational qualifications in Performance Tables in future and was working through all this with Awarding Organisations. A new list of qualifications would appear in January  2012 and would count in 2014 Performance Tables.
  • For 16 to 19s, GCSE achievements in English and Maths were in the mid 50%. Wolf was concerned about those not getting enough from 16 to 19 qualifications.
  • Employers wanted new employees with GCSE English and Maths in GCSE but they also complained about lack of adequate literacy and numeracy skills.
  • There were two current consultations on FE funding and FE Study Programmes. Every single learner should follow a coherent Study Programme. Colleges would be given an envelope of funding and required to devise coherent Study Programmes. Study Programmes might include various elements – including a qualification of substantial size and work related elements.
  • There would be English and Maths for those not achieving these previously. The challenge was to devise relationships between prescribed programmes and flexibilities.  DfE was not saying that students should simply continue taking English and Maths and recognised that there might be other qualifications in future. This was not a compulsory requirement so providers could use professional judgements.
  • DfE wanted to know how barriers to higher quality work experience might be overcome and how achievement in Level 2 English and Maths might be improved.

Tessa concluded that though she might not be able to stay for the whole of the day, that DfE was anxious to receive as many views as possible.

Geoff Daniels, Funding Reform Adviser from Young People’s Learning Agency, spoke on “Strategic and Funding Considerations – Implications for Institutions 2012 and Beyond”.

 He explained that he had started his career teaching in Dudley 37 years ago. He sought to pick up some of the main Strategic and Funding in the current consultation, with its broad compass of simplifying systems, giving more choice and enabling a better response from institutions. These were Geoff’s main points:

  • Colleges would be free to enrol pre 16. Though this was not a requirement, it enabled greater flexibility for colleges.
  • Those holding a QTLS qualification can teach in schools. This brings qualifications into line with QTS. UTCs and Studio Schools were also key developments.
  • Colleges can sponsor Academies, which began with 200 but were now around 1500. 40 academies were sponsored by colleges.
  • The funding consultation concludes on Wednesday 04 January 2012. It would not be implemented for the 2013/2014 funding year, which afforded time for lessons to be absorbed. The new formula would feed into allocations for 2013/2014 alongside raising the participation age to 17.  In 2015/2016 the participation age would be raised to 18.
  1. Geoff explained that the scope of the consultation ranged over:Disadvantage Funding – which could be aligned with pre 16 funding. There were, however, differences from the Pupil Premium, since there would not be a significant allocation additional funding.
  2. Funding Learners’ Programmes.
  3. How to accommodate Achievement of Success in the funding formula. Though the Success Factor included results, its emphasis on payment by qualifications had made this less challenging than they should be.
  4. Other factors including area costs and residential care standards.
  • Disadvantage Funding. Post 16 this was split between Disadvantage Funding and Additional Learning Support, with links to prior attainment. Should these be brought together in a single budget or retain a degree of split? Learning Support might be allocated within programme funding across the cohort. What the is method for allocation? Free School Meals, the Index of Multiple Deprivation or the Income Deprivation affecting Children Index. Should there be additional categories?
  • Participation Funding. Funding per learner is a key principle. What will the full time rate be? 600 hours of teaching should be affordable and the rate per learner should fund this. Some programmes were more than this but there were others with less. An important point was that future weighting would be at programme rather than qualification level. The number of programme weightings could be reduced.
  • Success factor. There were issues around transparency. OFSTED would continue to use similar indicators. The Consultation sought to look at options – retain, remove or something in between. The current Success Factor is about both retention and qualification.
  • Other factors including area costs and residential care standards. Allocations to landbased and specialist providers would continue. The Short Programme Modifier would probably be removed.
  • Implementation and Next Steps. A transition was needed with options to manage funding volatility. Processes were needed to manage the transition, with a shadow allocation for 2012/2013 and allocations for 2013/2014 based on the new formula.

After lunch there were the following speaker contributions:

 ‘Developments in the Mathematics Curriculum post-Wolf’ by Charlie Stripp, Chief Executive, Mathematics in Education and Industry.  Charlie described other related qualifications alongside GCSE Maths and the need for qualifications post 16 beyond GCSE.

‘English and Maths Qualifications – or Alternatives – for 16-18 yr olds’ by Glynis Frater, Director, Learning Cultures.  Glynis said that many difficulties arising post 16 were because  Functional Skills had been neglected and should be brought more into the curriculum.

‘Trusted Qualifications, the Regulatory Framework and Opportunities for Curriculum Development’ by John Brenchley, OCR and Leslie Huckfield, LH Research.  John described the fundamental changes taking place throughout 14 to 19 education and emphasised the need for qualifications which employers understood and could trust. Leslie Huckfield said that Wolf had also made important recommendations about more employer involvement, which should not be overlooked.

Questions and Discussion Groups

It was most interesting that though the Conference covered a very wide range of Post Wolf 14 to 19 topics, the issue which dominated most questions to Panels and in Discussions Groups afterwards centred on the appropriateness and suitability of GCSE English and Maths for lower attainers. Though the significance and relevance of these qualifications were recognised, many strong opinions were expressed that these were not always the basis of an appropriate Study Programme for Post 16 lower attainers.

Initial Evaluation Feed from the day was very positive and deservedly so.  A wide range of speakers and contributions had contributed to a worthwhile event.