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Morris: End the culture of leaving education at 16

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Estelle MorrisAn award which would recognise the achievements of young people by the age of 19 was proposed by Education and Skills Secretary Estelle Morris today as she set out her vision of education for 14-19 year olds.

The suggested over-arching 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.

For the first time, it could recognise a range of activities – including voluntary work, that fall outside the formal classroom environment. However, it does not replace any existing qualifications. Traditional GCSEs and A-levels retain their significance and would count towards the new award, as well as a range of vocational qualifications including vocational GCSEs.

Addressing the Qualification and Curriculum Authority’s annual conference in Westminster, Ms Morris said:

“I believe we need to make 14-19 a coherent, seamless phase in a young person’s education in a way that hasn’t been contemplated before, and one which builds on the progress we hope to see among 11-14 year olds as a result of the reforms we have introduced for the early years of secondary school.

“Currently, there is not enough recognition of the vocational qualifications that young people are taking. The fact is a lot of youngsters are not yet valued for non-academic work which they find stimulating and valuable. Too many young people are turned off education because of the low-esteem attached to non-academic routes.

“Even the current language of ‘disapplication’ that we use for those who do not follow the full traditional curriculum is stigmatising and negative. What we call ‘disapplication’ should be about freeing schools so that they can allow people to follow the routes that suit them best and will allow them to achieve most. We should be supporting all young people in fulfilling their potential.

“The new award would help end the culture of leaving education for good at 16, and reflect better young people’s achievements after the age of 14. We want to signal clearly that whatever path of study young people choose to follow – academic, vocational or a more mixed programme – that they can see clearly where their efforts will lead and how their achievements will be recognised.

“Learning cannot come to a halt at the end of compulsory school age. Too many young people see 16 as the cut off point between school and the world of work. We want young people to become autonomous learners, taking courses chosen from a wide range of high quality vocational and academic programmes, in school, college and the workplace.

“It will help improve their motivation, keep them in learning for longer and lead to increased participation in education or training post-16, including higher education. It is central to developing the skills of adults and meeting the demands of the workplace.

“It makes sense to have accreditation, perhaps a graduation certificate, which recognises a coherent package of achievement between 14 and 19. So I shall want to build on the work QCA have done already to design an overall award which includes challenging goals at levels 2 and 3 that offer depth, breadth and coherence.

“It could also include a requirement to make a contribution to the community through voluntary work. It will be something to which everyone can aspire, but which will demonstrate real achievement and commitment; and it will give young people a clear goal which spans the 14-19 phase.

“We do not pretend it is easy to break down the barriers to students continuing in education post-16. We need to encourage schools, colleges and other training providers and employers to work together. Young people and their parents will also need access to high quality and impartial advice and guidance at certain crucial points. The new Connexions service will help meet this need.

“Of course, a number of changes are already underway to develop 14-19 as a more coherent phase in education:

  • new Vocational GCSEs;
  • investment of £38 million in a programme of 40,000 work-related placements for 14-16 year-olds which will run from 2002;
  • the setting up of the Learning and Skills Council which, for the first time, brings all post-16 learning under a single body;
  • commitment of £180 million over 3 years to strengthen and expand work-based training through upgraded Modern Apprentices.

“I believe than many people share our vision for 14-19. We want to work in partnership with employers, local authorities and all types of education and training providers to see how this vision can become a reality. And we must ensure that what we offer meets the wishes of the young people themselves.

“I am determined that proposals for 14-19, combined with national roll-out of Key Stage 3 strategy and with important proposals for increasing diversity in secondary education – not even touched on here – must contribute to raising standards, and to raising standards for all young people, in such a way as to instil in them desire and thirst for lifelong learning.

“That thirst for lifelong learning is vital to this nation’s economic and social well being. Without a more highly-skilled workforce we risk relegation to the fringes of the great economies; but far more importantly to me, we will raise further generations who have not been given the tools or the aspirations to fulfil their potential, not just in work but in all arenas of life. And that would be a tragedy.”

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