Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Only Radical Change Will Drive the 14-19 Agenda

Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Only Radical Change Will Drive the 14-19 Agenda

Article excerpt

"Studio schools are spreading... because they've shown their worth in providing young people with the skills and attitudes they need to make a success of work and life."

These words were spoken almost three years ago by the schools commissioner at the time, Liz Sidwell, when she announced the approval of the latest wave of the specialist 14-19 free schools.

But the project hasn't quite had the transformational impact that some expected. While a handful of the schools have gone on to establish themselves, the majority have struggled to carve out a place in the educational landscape.

The list of studio school closures already announced runs from Hull to Hinckley, from Clacton to Nuneaton. Just yesterday came the announcement that the two grandly named Da Vinci studio schools in the Hertfordshire towns of Letchworth and Stevenage will follow suit. Their younger students will move to neighbouring schools, with North Hertfordshire College bringing the schools' post-16 provision in-house.

This isn't to dismiss the studio school philosophy out of hand: the Rye Studio School in East Sussex, for instance, was rated "outstanding" by inspectors last year. But by and large, the project has led to many schools struggling to attract students and justify the millions spent on them.

Similarly, while there are some examples of successful university technical colleges (UTCs) - not least the very first one, the JCB Academy - too many of them have ended up massively undersubscribed.

Privately, many principals acknowledge that it has proved more challenging than they expected to convince parents that the schools offer a curriculum to stretch the most gifted students, not just those who have found school life difficult.

Conversely, the move to allow colleges to recruit directly at 14 with the goal of offering a new opportunity precisely for those students who have struggled in an academic environment has proved to be just as much of a damp squib. …

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