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Education: 14-19 Reform

Volume 704: debated on Monday 13 October 2008

My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families (Ed Balls) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

Today I would like to update the House on progress with our 14-to-19 education reforms, and the next steps in realising our ambition that all young people should participate and achieve in learning until at least their 18th birthday.

Last month saw the first teaching of the new diploma qualification. My department has received much positive feedback from young people taking the new diploma qualification, describing how exciting and enjoyable they have found their studies, and from teachers who have been impressed by how successfully the distinctive new curriculum, combining theoretical studies with practical work-based experiences, has engaged their students.

Our reform programme has also received positive and constructive external scrutiny. In September, Ofsted published a progress report on the implementation of 14-to-19 reforms so far. The report confirmed the positive impact that local 14-to-19 strategies were already having in raising achievement, increasing participation and retaining learners in education and training, and setting out the areas where further work was needed in order to ensure the reforms secured the best possible outcomes for our young people.

Earlier this month the Public Accounts Committee produced a report commending the diploma for the opportunity it provided young people to study for qualifications integrating academic and vocational learning, but also rightly pointing out the importance of ensuring that all schools, colleges and work-based learning providers are supported to teach diplomas, not just those teaching from this September. We now have support programmes in place for those teaching diplomas in 2009 and 2010, as well as those who have not yet applied successfully to deliver the diploma.

The latest information we have from local consortia indicates that around 12,000 young people are currently working towards a diploma qualification. Our focus continues to be on the standard of teaching of the diploma, and on supporting the system to build the capacity to deliver these reforms to the quality our young people deserve and at all times putting quality before quantity as we take forward the diploma programme.

Legislation currently before the House would have the effect of raising the age to which young people must participate in learning from 16 to 17 in 2013 and 18 in 2015. If this legislation is passed, then the around 600,000 young people starting secondary school last month will be the first young people who will have to stay on in learning beyond 16. That is why I am today publishing Delivering 14-19 Reform: Next Steps, an implementation plan setting out in detail the journey we and our partners will take between now and 2015 to ensure every young person in the country is able to reach their full potential, enjoying first-rate educational provision which both stretches and engages them, and prepares them to progress on to higher education or skilled employment. It also sets out the support which will be made available to ensure that young people continue to be able to access this provision, whatever financial or challenging personal circumstances they might face.

In addition, it confirms our commitment to ensuring that the ideas and energy of the young people themselves should directly impact upon the planning and delivery of reforms at a local level. We will establish a pilot scheme involving some of those areas delivering from September 2010 to see how the student voice can be taken into account most effectively, which will inform a firmer requirement on consortia to demonstrate how they take the views of young people into account in the fourth diploma gateway. We will also establish a national 14-to-19 learner panel by spring 2009.

Higher education and business support for the diploma has also continued to grow. Wellington College has confirmed its intention to offer the diploma in engineering as early as September 2009. All the Russell and 1994 group universities have publicly stated that they will consider applications from diploma students. Our network of diploma employer champions has now expanded to over 80, including such household names as Land Rover, Vodafone and Toshiba.

I am also announcing today the criteria against which bids for the £55 million-worth of funding available for the development of exemplary diploma facilities, announced in July, will be assessed. This will allow work to begin on the development of a series of projects that will create world-class diploma facilities to benefit learners and act as showpieces to inspire the whole sector.

Just one example of the exciting new projects already under way are the plans for a new academy, sponsored by JCB, that would be at the forefront of diploma delivery at levels 1, 2 and 3 in engineering and manufacturing and product design. The academy would be located next to JCB's world headquarters in east Staffordshire and would admit pupils from across Staffordshire, Stoke, Derby city and Derbyshire.

There is much more work to be done to guarantee the successful implementation of our reforms, but I am highly encouraged by our progress to date.