New education framework suggests reform of 14-19 qualifications

The “complex” qualifications landscape for 14 to 19 year olds is to be streamlined under plans to better align the education system with the needs of the economy.

Developing a More Strategic Approach To 14-19 Education and Training, a new framework proposing greater integration between the Department for the Economy and the Department of Education. highlights feedback from education stakeholders that “the current qualifications landscape is complex, with too many qualifications which are poorly understood”.

The framework alludes to a ‘new vision’ for the education system which makes it work more in line with the needs of the economy of Northern Ireland, and fill skills shortages.

“Flexibility, information-handling skills, knowing where work is available, and a commitment to lifelong learning are now essential requirements for entering the world of work in the 21st century,” it states.

In a joint statement, Minister of Education Michelle McIlveen MLA, and Minister for the Economy Gordon Lyons MLA, said they were “confident that this joint framework will help encourage a much closer integration between education and training, and economic policies”.

The report acknowledges that implementing the suggested framework is “resource dependant”, with a specific amount not as of yet outlined, although it states that the framework cannot be implemented with the current level of spending, as “investment will be required”.

“The resource requirements to take forward some of the actions are significant and, in some instances, will require the establishment of dedicated projects or additional staffing resource,” the report emphasises.

Transition points

The framework defines three key ‘transition points’ for people in education:

1. GCSE/Key Stage 4 choices at age 14;

2. Choosing between continuing at school, entering employment, studying an apprenticeship, further education or training at age 16; and

3. Making similar choices with the additional option of higher education at age 18.

Outlining the wide array of options for young people in education, it also notes that “with multiple options and a complex range of qualifications available there is a need to ensure that young people, their parents and their carers understand and are aware of the full range of options in order to make informed choices about their future”.

The framework calls for an overhaul of the qualifications process and a diversification of the curriculum to meet both the educational needs of young people and the skills demands of the economy.

In a joint statement, Peter Friel, 14-19 Project Board Principal, Tony Scullion, Education Adviser, CCMS, and Michael Keenan, Director of Education, CCMS said: “Through a more strategic and integrated approach between education, training and the wider economic environment, we can ensure that our young people have access to a curriculum and range of pathways that meet more fully, their personal, inter-personal and career needs and aspirations.”

Another recommendation is a reform of the qualifications process for the 14-19 age group as, according to the report, “the current qualifications landscape is complex, with too many qualifications which are poorly understood”.

The report continues: “The qualifications landscape needs to be streamlined, accessible and easily understood by young people, their parents and carers and employers.”

Strategic themes

There are five sets of strategic themes outlined in the report which signal “where emphasis and resources should be directed to help address the key challenges identified”. These are:

1. curriculum and qualifications;

2. post-16 provision;

3. careers;

4. awareness and engagement; and

5. 14-19 education and training system.

These themes are underpinned by supporting actions which provide detail as to what activities need to be initiated and progressed over the short-, medium-, and long-term to ensure the overarching objectives and outcomes are achieved.

With regards to the curriculum and qualifications, the framework says that the departments must “build awareness and understanding of the Northern Ireland Curriculum and refresh the focus on skills”.

For careers, there will be a review of the model of careers education delivery and careers guidance in schools, which will include introducing new measures for careers guidance outcomes by developing clear, common, transparent, and accountable quality standards.

The action plan also commits to ensuring “equity of provision and appropriate work experience opportunities are accessible for young people”, as well as investment in the development of a consolidated careers portal, which will make information on the labour market, including skills shortages and opportunities, more accessible.

For post-16 provision, defining the role of post-16 education and agreeing the responsibilities and offer of various institutions is the key strategic action identified, as well as working to identify post-16 and post-19 opportunities for special educational needs in special schools.

The framework identifies coherence between educational and employment sectors as key to success, underpinned by awareness of options and pathways through the 14-19 system.

Finally, establishing metrics for sustained success is perceived to be fundamental. The departments announced that they will “scope the feasibility of a project to address the challenges around the use of data and to agree consistent measures of success for the 14-19 landscape”. It is unclear when this will be done.

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