Head teachers offer peace

School head teachers have offered to work with college principals to help heal the wounds caused by hostile local battles for 16-year-olds.

Joint local curriculum boards and a code of practice on marketing and sharing information have been suggested by David Hart, head of the National Association of Head Teachers.

But while delegates who heard his offer, to the Association of Principals of Colleges annual conference in Newcastle upon Tyne, were keen on a code, there was only a lukewarm response to curriculum planning.

Principals' concern for parity of treatment for colleges and vocational education was a main undercurrent of the conference.

They attacked the Government policy of "proliferation of inefficiently-sized sixth forms in schools" and voted unanimously to press Gillian Shephard, Secretary of State for Education, for a National Audit Office value-for-money study on small sixth forms.

Mr Hart said he too had reservations about non-viable sixth forms and was looking for a lead from Government. "I did not get a satisfactory answer from Tim Boswell, (minister for further and higher education) when I asked what has happened to HMI's rubric that a sixth form should be 150 or thereabouts if it was to be deemed viable," he said.

"Has that standard been abolished? Is there any criteria by which DFE is really working?" But he said the NAHT and APC should work together where they could, starting with a code of practice.

"I believe this to be the most difficult area in school and college collaboration," said Mr Hart.

"Colleges believe schools are concealing information from their students. Schools believe colleges are guilty of dubious marketing practices and unfair competition when it comes to seducing students away at 16-plus," he said.

"We ought to look at the possibility of establishing local area boards which could provide a forum for schools and colleges in the planning of full-time curricula. The careers service should be a major body in such a liaison.

"We ought to do everything we can to ensure the path of collaboration and the discouragement of institutional marketing from taking precedence over the interests of students."

Mr Hart also proposed college representation on national UCAS committees which currently comprise only schools and universities.

APC president Tony Colton said Mr Hart's ideas would be considered seriously, adding that collaboration worked well in his backyard, Birmingham.

But Mike Snell, principal of Brockenhurst College, said parity of esteem between academic and vocational qualifications was the key to bringing colleges and schools together, not regional boards.

In an earlier debate on a value-for-money audit of sixth forms, Mr Snell claimed many schools were offering post-16 courses without formal approval. And Barnsley College principal David Eade said it was "disgraceful" that schools were not subjected to the same financial rigour as colleges.

"We accepted all the forceful arguments made about the need for efficiency and driving down costs," said Mr Eade. "We are convincing our staff they have to go along with these things when they can see in another part of the service it is of no importance. It is damaging morale."

However, the conference heard how the Welsh Office may impose similar funding pressures on school sixth forms as on colleges.

The consultation paper on Wales's new unitary authorities says ministers would like to see performance and completion factors reflected in the funding of school sixth forms.

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