College and school heads have cast doubt on the government's proposals for 14-19 education and training reform and their likely impact on widening participation, writes Tony Tysome.
Ministers were warned this week that their plans for a "matriculation diploma" at three levels, outlined in a green paper published last month, are unlikely to be accepted by higher education admissions chiefs, or to encourage disadvantaged or less-able students to continue or re-start their education and training.
Education leaders at a conference in London to consider the green paper called for more to be done to encourage higher education to embrace curriculum and qualifications reform.
They urged the government to reconsider proposals to start the diploma awards at intermediate level rather than foundation level, and they called for more flexible learning pathways at lower levels to provide more incentives for underachieving students.
David Gibson, chief executive of the Association of Colleges, said the government should put pressure on universities to overhaul "unaccountable admissions policies" that largely ignored post-14 curriculum and qualifications changes designed to widen participation and social inclusion.
He said: "You can have all this social inclusion and widening participation, and FE is leading the way on that, but then you still come up against HE admissions tutors who insist on sticking to traditional entry requirements."
John Dunford, general secretary for the Secondary Heads Association, said it seemed doubtful that either admissions tutors or employers would take any notice of an overarching matriculation diploma. He asked: "What gatekeeper of universities or employment is going to say to you that you can have a place or a job if you have an advanced-level diploma? They will stipulate points or subjects the same as they always have."
David Hart, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said the green paper presented a "once in a lifetime opportunity" for schools, colleges and employers to collaborate to create relevant and high-quality qualifications.