HC Deb 21 January 2003 vol 398 cc7-9WS
The Secretary of State for Education and Skills (Mr. Charles Clarke)

We are today publishing our response to the consultation on the Green Paper, "14–19;extending opportunities, raising standards", which we published in February 2002.

The response document, copies of which will be placed in the Library of the House today, sets out our proposals for reform of this critical phase of young people's education. We have three key objectives: Our immediate task is to give assurance to students and the wider community that the existing system is stable and effectively managed—this remains our short term priority. In the medium term, we will make practical changes to introduce more flexibility and choice so that students' programmes can be better tailored to their needs and aptitudes. For the longer term, we need to discuss and implement reform that will put in place a system that is fit for 21st Century needs.


Mike Tomlinson's two reports following his independent inquiry into last summer's A-level problems provide a sound basis for restoring confidence in the A-level system. In his final report, he offered an assurance, which we accepted, that the actions he has recommended would secure the standards and integrity of the 2003 examinations. The QCA and the relevant awarding bodies are urgently taking forward those recommendations to secure the effective delivery of this year's examinations and to ensure that the problems of last summer cannot be repeated.


We will make changes to the curriculum, which will give students greater freedom to choose programmes of study that better meet their needs and strengths. We will reduce the number of compulsory subjects in key stage 4 to English, mathematics, science and ICT, with an entitlement to study another language, design and technology, an arts and a humanities subject. We announced our broader conclusions on modern foreign languages in our language strategy in December. All 14–16 year-olds will learn about work and enterprise, and will also continue to be taught citizenship, religious education, sex education, careers education and physical education. Students will be entitled to study literacy, numeracy and ICT up to age 19 until they have achieved a level 2 award (equivalent to a good GCSE). But we have decided not to proceed for the present with our proposal to introduce a new A "with distinction" grade at A-level, preferring rather to support advanced extension awards.

We will further improve the choices open to young people by developing "hybrid" GCSEs that combine traditional general subjects with their vocational applications. We will discard the unhelpful distinction between "vocational" and "academic" GCSEs and A-levels. We intend to improve and expand modern apprenticeships so that by 2004 28 per cent. of young people will be able to enter them.

We will develop a consistent approach to teaching and learning across the whole 11–19 age range in schools and colleges. We will pilot a range of measures, building on the proposals set out in "Schools: achieving success and Success for All", drawing on existing best practice and the opportunities presented by e-learning.

These reforms will be delivered through local innovation and partnership, bringing together different learning institutions and employers. The Green Paper proposed a programme of 14–19 pathfinders to test local delivery in a range of settings. We have announced the first 25 year one pathfinders across all regions in a variety of local circumstances to expand collaboration in innovative ways, building on the increasingly distinctive specialisms of local schools, colleges and training providers. We expect all of them to be in place by the end of January 2003. We will shortly be inviting expressions of interest for a second round of pathfinders to begin in September 2003. We will introduce a range of measures to support local delivery of the 14–19 agenda, including practical changes in inspection and performance management arrangement and funding flexibilities.


These measures will help to improve participation and achievement while avoiding further major upheaval in a system that has undergone substantial recent change. We are clear that, in the longer term, further changes must address: the need for a much stronger vocational offer; the requirement for more manageable assessment, which recognises all of a young person's achievements; the aim of broadening choice and stretching students, with a unified framework of qualifications designed to provide opportunities for young people of all abilities.

We will appoint a working group for 14–19 reform, under the chairmanship of Mike Tomlinson and with its membership drawn from those with direct experience of 14–19 education, higher education and industry, to consider and make recommendations on these longer term issues. We have asked Mike Tomlinson to report the group's interim conclusions within one year, with a view to finalising its work within 18 months.

Together these immediate and longer term reforms will help us realise our vision of a 14–19 phase of flexible, yet structured provision, delivered by schools, colleges and others working innovatively together to meet the needs of all learners and of the economy.