Headlines: June 27th, 2001

There’s been a mixed response to the first keynote announcements by the by Education and Skills Secretary Estelle Morris on modernising the learning experience from 14 to 19 years.The headline offering – of a ‘school certificate’ type award at the end of sixth form to keep more young people in school to 18 – was welcomed by the Local Government Association, but described as too prescriptive by the teachers’ union NASUWT.

The suggested award would not require additional tests or exams, but be presented to students upon completion of a combination of existing academic and vocational study routes, possibly in the form of a leaving certificate to be issued at graduation style ceremonies.

It could recognise a range of activities – including voluntary work, as well A levels and both the traditional and the new vocational GCSEs.

Ms Morris made her first major policy speech about the 14-19 phase in education at the Qualification and Curriculum Authority’s annual conference in Westminster.

She said the current lack of recognition for the non-academic contribution of a lot of young people was stigmatising and negative.

The new award would help end the culture of leaving education for good at 16 – with a sharp cut-off for many marking the end of learning and the start of working.

She described it as a continuation of the modernisation process already begun in 14-19 education. This includes vocational GCSEs, work-related placements for 14-16 year-olds from 2002, the bringing of all post-16 learning under a single body (the Learning and Skills Council) and the commitment to upgrade the modern apprenticeship system.

The LGA say the school leavers certificate scheme is already being piloted by some schools and colleges, and proving popular.

Nigel de Gruchy, General Secretary of NASUWT, welcomed proposals to free the National Curriculum post-14 to make it more inclusive to disaffected pupils. But he said the prescription for all schools to hold American-style graduation ceremonies reflected a common trait in recent education secretaries in prescribing in ‘perverse’ detail practices which schools should be left free to decide on themselves.