Page last updated at 05:49 GMT, Thursday, 2 October 2008 06:49 UK

Row over teenage learning changes

A school class
Issues such as teachers' working hours need to be addresses, say unions.

Plans to make a flexible learning programme for 14-19-year-olds compulsory in all schools in Wales have been criticised by teaching unions.

Learning Pathways, enabling pupils to take a wider range of courses at different schools and colleges, has so far run on a voluntary basis.

Now the assembly government wants to make it compulsory for all schools to offer the scheme from next September.

Unions said not all schools would cope, but ministers said the plan was ready.

Unions have drawn comparisons with the troubled roll-out of the Foundation Phase, the play-based early learning scheme for three-seven-year-olds, which is being introduced more gradually than originally planned after funding worries.

Individual needs

Learning Pathways is the assembly government's flagship teaching policy for secondary schools, which aims to provide each pupil with a unique education, supporting their individual needs.

It means pupils can choose to study a far wider range of subjects than is available at their own school or college, mixing both academic and vocational studies.

Through neighbouring institutions working together, students and teachers can move between different campuses to access different courses.

Deputy Education Minister John Griffiths has defended the decision to bring in legislation to make Learning Pathways compulsory, saying that 32.5m has been ring-fenced every year for it.

The timescale is unrealistic and we need to ask if legislation is necessary at this stage
Iwan Guy, NAHT

He said local area officers will also be made available to facilitate co-operation and he added that, due to the concerns of unions, there will be a three-phase roll-out, beginning next September.

But unions fear there has been insufficient research into the scheme and warned not all areas have the infrastructure in place yet to support it.

Iwan Guy, acting director of the head teachers' union NAHT Cymru, said the roll-out could "mimic the debacle we saw when the Foundation Phase came in".

He said they felt another three-to-five years of research and preparation was needed before legislation was brought in.

"The timescale is unrealistic and we need to ask if legislation is necessary at this stage," he said.

"Learning Pathways has been offered on a voluntary basis by some schools in England and Wales for quite a few years and for many it is working very well.

"But legislation makes it a 'one-size-fits-all' situation. And in this case one size doesn't fit all.

'Building partnerships'

"What about Welsh education schools? Would pupils be able to go to their neighbouring schools, which are likely to be teaching them in the English language? Their parents send them to Welsh schools to learn in the language of Welsh.

"And then you have areas like Builth Wells where pupils would spend a lot longer travelling to other schools and colleges - that's time when they could be being taught.

"We support more choice but we need to look at what is working well and how we can make it work in all areas."

He added that teachers' hours would also have to be looked at, while administration issues, such as providing adequate transport between schools and colleges, needed to be addressed.

But Mr Griffiths insisted the scheme was ready to be rolled out.

"We have been working towards this new system, this new way of doing things - of opening up choice - for an awfully long time," he said.

"When I first became an assembly member in 1999 it was on the agenda then and had been progressed for some years.

"Since then a lot of work has taken place right across Wales at local level in terms of building partnerships and expanding choice, so we have already done some of the work."

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18 Jul 08 |  Wales politics

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