Notes from the Post-16 underground

With no obvious similarities to the dark world of Dostoyevsky (other than a pithy title and some miserable weather) we were instead hoping for rays of sunshine and hope as Sixth Form lead professionals gathered together for the WSDN Sixth Form Forum? Sylvia King, Head of Post 16 and Vocational and Regional Lead for SSAT South East, took on this challenge and spoke to thirteen colleagues from schools across the county on the current and future picture for Sixth form qualifications, programmes of study & funding. Her wide ranging talk provided detailed and useful information on a number of areas.

She reflected that with the departure of the previous Secretary of State, there is a view that Ofqual is pushing back on aspects of Gove’s ‘reforms’, however there is no doubt that the pace and scope of change at post 16 is significant, colleagues in schools often have a number of roles and staying abreast of the changes post-16 is not easy.

 A Level and Vocational Qualifications

In the attached PPT that accompanied the forum, Slides 2-6 provide a recap on the timeline for main changes to both A Level and vocational qualifications, as does the timeline included with this blog. We were reminded that many of the new qualifications are far more content heavy, with potential implications for Curriculum time allocation that many schools are already juggling.

There are a number of implications at post 16 that have impact on the wider school, staffing and resourcing which schools with sixth forms will need to consider. For example it is considered likely that the proposed Level Three Maths qualification will become statutory. However, there is no additional funding for this at a time of acute shortage of Maths teachers, there are suggestions that if all Maths undergraduates currently at University were to go in to teaching there would still be a recruitment gap. Alternatives were discussed, possibly using web based learning and teaching, but these are not currently being discussed officially. Therefore for each decision whether curriculum time, staffing or resourcing for new courses that is made in post-16 schools will need to consider the knock on implications on the wider school.

Accountability measures

It was useful to gain a refresher on the new measures which will apply to students starting two-year courses in September 2014, whose 2016 examination results will be reported in January 2017. The guidance is to be reviewed in 2015 after a trial run. Five headline measures will be published in the 16 to 18 performance tables in 2016:

  • Progress
  • Attainment
  • progress in English and maths
  • retention
  • destinations

Sylvia reminded us that students will be counted as retained if they only do AS. There will inevitably be a data gap as measures change. Slides 8-15 give the detail of these measures and how they can be broken down. Schools will need to reflect and potentially model the likely implications of these measures (retention, different progress measurements and achievement measurements for each qualification) as they are likely applied to individual school contexts and cohorts.

AS/A2 ‘Better together or apart’? (slides 16-19)

We were reminded that different skills sets are now required for AS and A2. This presents a challenge in a number of ways: if combining AS and A2, teaching AS in Year 12 and A2 in Year 13 is no longer straightforward progression. With the new qualifications teaching to AS can easily shut down learning options for A2. The requirements for A2 will emphasize the synoptic element of the whole course; and will have a much greater focus on analysis and evaluation; exams are unlikely to have the ‘scaffolded’ mark schemes’ we have become used to and the exam questions are more likely to be reminiscent of the pre-curriculum 2000 type questions; open ended without prompts. We will need to consider the best ways to prepare our students for each of these new qualifications and assessments.

The Study Programme: (slide 20)

Ofsted will be looking closely not just at what qualifications students are studying for, but that these are clearly set in a wider context. We are familiar with the rhetoric from government that the qualification reforms provide qualifications that are now of sufficient size and rigour to stretch the students and that are clearly linked to suitable progression opportunities that will allow our young people to compete globally. Students should be very aware of where these qualifications may lead; appropriate Information and Guidance should be provided and students need to be making informed choices about their study options and qualifications. Vocational qualifications should be complemented by appropriate hands on vocational experience – BTEC level 3 students should be doing some type of work experience.

These conversations become particularly apparent this year for schools with sixth forms as the participation age of 18 applies from summer 2015, having appropriate programmes for a potentially wider range of students will become a factor in our planning with clear implications.

Funding:

Colleagues will have completed their census returns that support the funding allocation but it was useful to be made aware of the monitoring reports and timescales (slides 21-15) that support this, tracking students movements in year will be important to keep a close handle on the funding for sixth forms.

Networking

Discussion in break out groups focused on the different content of new AS / A2 specifications, the challenge of teaching AS with A2s; the demise of the IGCSE as a qualification counting towards league tables, managing the GLH offer, and pathways. What was strongly apparent was that the schools represented at the forum are seeking to ensure that the curriculum offer post 16 meets the needs of a broad range of students across West Sussex Schools. Equally the commitment to ensure quality is not compromised for our students whilst also endeavouring to balance an increasingly squeezed budget is a challenge for all.

In conclusion!

Colleagues welcomed the opportunity both hear up to the minute insights and to network and discuss these issues with other colleagues. We are considering an informal re-grouping later this term and again in the summer term to allow for Sixth form leads to come together and share ideas, experiences and developments. We would be keen to hear feedback on this from colleagues.

In the meantime very warm thanks to Sylvia for her presentation, and to St Wilfrid’s for hosting the event.

Materials:

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