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1. Introduction

14 – 19 education and training in the United Kingdom

This Commentary was stimulated by controversies about 14 -19 education and training in England. The underlying issues also arise in different ways in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Policy in this area is diverging between the four home countries. This means that it is important to focus on the key issues where research can illuminate policy rather than looking only at developments relevant to a specific country.

The issues have been unfolding for some time. In England, the working party report on 14 -19 education and training (2004), chaired by Sir Mike Tomlinson, was rapidly followed by the Government’s 14 -19 Education and Skills White Paper (2005a). Both highlighted the need to reform many aspects of education and training for 14-19 year olds. The proposals which followed Tomlinson can largely be seen as an attempt to make the current system operate more effectively. But decisions could be taken later to implement a version of the broader and more radical vision for the sector that Tomlinson envisaged.

The Teaching and Learning Research Programme, together with the Nuffield Review of 14-19 education and training, will participate in articulating the choices on how 14 -19 education and training might be developed in the future. This Commentary is a contribution to such discussions.

The TLRP aims to improve outcomes for learners of all ages and manages some 60 investments. Many of its projects are engaged in research highlighting important issues for the education and training of the 14 -19 age cohort. These issues are drawn from several sectors and reflect the fact that 14-19 year olds are now learning in a wide range of settings including schools, sixth forms, further and higher education, private and voluntary sector organisations, and workplaces. TLRP’s wide interests mean that its researchers are well placed to contribute to this debate

In the past, compulsory and post-compulsory education have been thought of as distinct and separate phases. All four home countries are interested in easing the transition between these phases, particularly to facilitate lifelong learning. In different ways, England and Wales have gone furthest towards considering 14 -19 as a phase of education in its own right as a means to achieve this goal. However, such a change might not be helpful if the age of 14 were to become a new watershed and the continuity and coherence of prior education were to be disrupted at a new point of transition. Changes need to be made if 14-19 is to be considered a distinctive phase, and the implications for the phase that precedes it would need careful thought.

In September 2004 the Welsh Minister for Education and Lifelong Learning launched the Learning Pathways 14-19 Guidance (National Assembly for

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