As this academic year draws to a close we look back to what has been achieved and forward to the challenges and opportunities that we face from September.
The need for English and maths as the key components for all learning has dominated the sector this year as the government strives to ensure that the UK produces the well qualified and skilled workforce that we need to compete with the best in the world. To support this aim we have seen changes to the curriculum, qualifications, funding and accountability.
The curriculum in schools is starting to reflect the fact that we now have more and more fragmentation as the charge to be ‘different’ and independent of local authority control continues. We currently have 3000 schools with Academy status providing for 2 million pupils, 81 Free schools (with 102 in the pipeline), 17 Studio schools (with 27 in the pipeline) and five University Technical Colleges (with 40 in the pipeline). Interestingly although academy status means that schools can opt out of using the national curriculum most continue to use it and expect to follow the revised curriculum when it is introduced in 2014.
What will this mean for us in post-16 education? Schools have already started to reflect a more academic diet with most students taking GCSEs(with little or no coursework) at the end of key stage four; and there is little preparation or acquisition of work skills. However, from the age of 16 there will be a clear channelling to either a vocation path or an academic path. To support the recognition of the importance of skill acquisition the government has announced that it is going ahead with the introduction of new Level 3 vocation qualifications that will be designed to be equivalent to an ‘A’ level and lead to recognised occupations. Qualifications not leading directly to a vocational area will need the explicit backing of three universities and will be known as ‘Applied general qualifications’. I think we’ve been here before..Diplomas, BTEC, GNVQ…I could go on!
The big changes in the way post-16 learners are funded will clearly impact on the sector. New Study Programmes which start in September are not qualification dependant as funding will follow the learner. However, the funding is dependent on both maths and English being at the heart of the programme. GCSE is still seen as the ‘gold standard’ and so centres should ensure that learners for whom a GCSE is appropriate are given that option. Those learners who already have a Level 2 or GCSE in maths and/or English should be given an opportunity to continue to practise and apply the skills.
The introduction of Traineeships for those getting ready for employment as well as those preparing for an apprenticeship is a new development. There is good news, as the government have responded to pressure from the sector and has just been announced that Traineeships will be funded up to the age of 24. Again this route must include GCSE maths and English or Functional Skills as a key component of the programme.
Adults will also have new funding arrangements as the ‘Streamlined funding system ‘kicks in. This means that there will be no more unlisted funding for Functional Skills. The funding for Functional Skills for adults will be £724.00 for English and maths and £362 for ICT. There is also an extra £217.00 for Entry Level maths and the new Progression Units all attract additional funding. While we are taking about funding, just to confirm that over-24 advanced loans will not be required for adults taking Functional Skills as they are fully funded.
The other big change for September is that there will be new qualifications for all those working in the post-16 sector. There is a new Award and Certificate and a range of Diplomas so that no matter what your role there will be a qualification for you. The Diplomas include Level 5 Specialist Diplomas for English and maths practitioners that are ideal for those who are delivering functional skills. Despite the fact that teaching qualifications are no longer mandatory it is expected that providers will continue to support their staff to develop the expertise they need to be effective. Stephen Twigg the shadow minister for education is clear that if Labour form the next administration they will reverse this decision and re-instate the mandatory need for practitioners to be fully qualified.
It will be interesting see how the new Education and Training Foundation start to fill the gap left by the demise of LSIS and how they impact in up-skilling staff to deliver maths and English as part of their teaching. Remember, Ofsted will be looking for all staff to support learners to develop English and maths skills, so make sure you update your schemes of work to show this.
We will continue to work on ensuring that the resources we have for you are updated to reflect the changes for next year so look for the alerts as they are posted.