The national curriculum should be scrapped for pupils over 14 and responsibility for careers advice taken away from schools, to help young people make the right choices about their future, an influential group of peers has said.
The House of Lords social mobility committee has warned in its latest report that young people who choose vocational courses are being “overlooked and left behind” by the government. It said a new 14 to 19 “transition stage” should be created, with pupils able to choose to follow either an academic or technical route.
A system offering teenagers face-to-face careers advice should also be developed, with responsibility for delivery taken away from schools, the committee said.
It also recommended that a cabinet-level minister be given responsibility for the transition from school to work, as it currently “falls between a number of departments and ministers”.
The group, whose membership includes former education secretary Estelle Morris, ex-Conservative Party treasurer Michael Farmer and former civil servant and Connexions boss Claire Tyler, claims such a change would reduce drop-out rates among 16 and 17-year-olds.
The current national curriculum sets out programmes of study and attainment targets for all subjects at all four key stages, guiding pupils up to their GCSEs.
Although it applies only to council-maintained schools, a large number of academy trusts choose to follow it in their schools, and all schools are now judged on the proportion of pupils who study the academically-focused EBacc subjects – English, maths, science, a modern foreign language and either history or geography.
Russell Hobby, the general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, echoed the committee’s concern about the curriculum, claiming the government’s “obsession with a narrow set of subjects in a rigid framework” damaged the chances of young people who do not follow an academic route into work.
He said this damage occurred because the curriculum did not allow schools “the time to develop the abilities and aspirations in students that will best serve them in the workplace”.
Meanwhile, the jury is still out on recent government experiments with a 14 to 19 vocational route. Two of its flagship University Technical Colleges – in Hackney and Walsall – closed last summer and Central Bedfordshire UTC will close in August. All three had struggled to recruit pupils.
Studio schools, which offer a similar education to smaller numbers of pupils, have also had a rough ride, with 14 having either closed or announced plans to close this year.
The committee’s report, which has been released today after months of hearings with witnesses including education secretary Nicky Morgan and Ofsted chief regulator Michael Wilshaw, claims the current format of 16 to 19 education does not recognise that transitions to work take longer for some young people.
It says: “It would be better for the national curriculum to stop at age 14, rather than 16, and for a new 14–19 transition stage to be developed,” incorporating a “core element with either academic or vocational elements”.
“It could reduce drop-out rates at age 16 and age 17 from both vocational and academic routes. It would however require suitable advice and guidance to be given before young people make decisions about the subjects that they study at 14 to 16, which may later help or hinder progression to employment and further learning.”
In order to strengthen careers advice, the committee wants to see more funding for a face-to-face system “external” to schools, but stops short of making specific recommendations about the future of the relatively new Careers and Enterprise Company, which runs mentoring schemes to match businesspeople with schools.
The responsibility for keeping pupils informed about post-16 options was handed down to schools in 2012, but schools have been criticised by a number of high-profile leaders including Ofsted chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw for promoting their own sixth forms over other routes, to protect school budgets.
Committee chair Baroness Corston said: “We have found that without being taught life skills, given the right support, access to work experience and robust, independent careers advice, we are in danger of trapping these young people in low-skilled, low-paid work, with little chance of a rewarding career.”
A Department for Education spokesperson said it had introduced a more rigorous curriculum so “every child learns the basic skills they need such as English and maths”.
She said: “We will invest £70million in our careers strategy over the course of this parliament to transform the quality of careers education. We have also set up the Careers and Enterprise Company to bring young people into contact with employers and develop closer links with employers so they can play a greater role in preparing young people for the world of work.”