Here are my 5 personal post-16 education wishes for 2015. I think they are modest, realistic and realisable and could probably be progressed at no net cost. I believe that, taken together, these 5 changes could start to yield tangible benefits for young people and guarantee a post-16 system in better shape by the end of 2015. They should be able to command support from across the political spectrum and shouldn’t need to wait for the outcome of the general election for progress to be made.
- Recognise that innovation does not necessarily require the creation of new providers. We need to rediscover the virtues and potential of those we already have, they are rich in excellence and new ideas. Improving the system really doesn’t require more expensive new post-16 or 14-19 institutions, whether selective or specialist 16-19 free schools, UTCs or Institutes of Technical Education.
- Consult widely on what constitutes an educated 19 year-old today and therefore what should be included in a common post-16 curriculum. Then develop a rigorous and demanding national baccalaureate which reflects these aims, values both ‘academic’ and ‘applied’ learning and can meet the aspirations of all young people. Ensure that the qualification and assessment system is driven by these agreed educational objectives.
- Encourage and incentivise post-16 providers to work together in the interests of all young people in their area, for example through a common application process, universal professional careers guidance, a single point of contact for university partnership and the sharing of the best curriculum innovation and enrichment ideas. We need to invest in the system leadership needed to support this collaboration.
- Take a comprehensive view of the quality and impact of the whole of post-16 provision in each locality rather than just looking through the institutional lens. Reintroduce Ofsted area inspections and publish the data used to reach inspection judgements in Ofsted reports. Consider giving responsibility for post-16 strategy and investment to elected regional bodies such as the Greater London Authority.
- Follow through on the idea of a level playing field by giving colleges the same VAT exemption which schools and academies enjoy and funding 18 year olds at the same rate as 16 and 17 year olds following the same programmes.
Achieving a consensus in the sixth form and further education sectors about a few broad priorities such as these requires confidence and leadership. We could then flesh out each of our ideas and turn them into concrete policy proposals. If such a consensus is possible we might have a chance to start shaping our own destiny for a change.