The Wolf Review of 14-19 Education at a glance

15 March 2011

Last year the Secretary of State for Education commissioned Professor Alison Wolf of King’s College London to carry out an independent review of vocational education. She was asked to consider how vocational education for 14- to 19-year-olds can be improved – the resulting

Wolf Report has now been published.In this post we outline some of the context and recommendations that are most relevant to the cultural learning sector. If the Review is adopted by government it could become much easier for arts and cultural partners to offer apprenticeships and deliver vocational learning in schools.Professor Wolf states that 300,000- 400,000 16 to 19 year olds today are doing courses of little value and calls for a shake -up of the system. The Review recommends that many vocational qualifications should no longer count towards school league tables and performance measures, and a 20% cap on the amount of time young people should spend on vocational learning. This could well lead to a much greater emphasis on ‘academic’ courses for young people in schools and further education.The Secretary of State has warmly praised the report, calling it ‘brilliant and ground-breaking’, and has immediately accepted four of the 27 recommendations.You can read some short summaries of the report and responses on the website of the National Association of Head Teachers, and on Mike Baker’s Blog.Alison Wolf starts her paper with some key assumptions:

  1. any young person’s programme of study, whether academic or vocational should provide for progress into a job or to further education;
  2. the education system is ‘bedevilled by well-meaning attempts to pretend that everything is worth the same as everything else’. Professor Wolf believes that some qualifications are more valid than others;
  3. the system needs to be simplified;
She also sets out a view of the current climate, stating that there are many fewer jobs for young people of 16 and 17 than there were 20 years ago. She states that young people change jobs and occupations rapidly in their first years of employment, fuelling the need for core, general skills –particularly in English and Maths. The report also shows that good work experience is stall valued by employers and remains a good route into the workplace.There is a great deal of complex analysis of different qualifications within the report. Here are some of the apparent headlines:

  1. BTEC National Diplomas (equivalent to A-levels) are recognised as valuable to the labour market and as a route into higher education;
  2. Traditional craft qualifications, such as those provided by City & Guilds, show clear income returns for adults;
  3. BTEC Firsts and First Diplomas (which currently hold GCSE equivalencies) appear to be seen as part of the broader raft of level 2 qualifications which do not link effectively to progression into labour markets or education;
  4. The Diploma does not feature strongly in the paper, and Professor Wolf states that the cohort to date has been too small to provide effective data. The inference is that the Diploma is also part of the same raft of less valuable level 2 qualifications;
  5. Apprenticeships are highly praised throughout the report. The report states that they should ideally open doors into Higher Education as well as to employment;
  6. English and Maths at GCSE level are seen as critical for all young people and the report recommends that young people should continue to study for these qualifications right up until age 19 if they have not achieved them earlier.
The Wolf Report makes 27 recommendations, a number of which will have significant implications for the arts and cultural learning sector and creative industries if they are adopted by government.The importance of generalised skillsThe Report makes a strong case that young people need important and generalised skills, and states that institutions and providers of education should be expected to provide each young person with a coherent programme of study within broad parameters, not just individual qualifications.The Cultural Learning Alliance is clear that the arts and cultural learning should be central in preparing young people for work in the creative and cultural industries, and in other professions. Core skills such as problem solving, communication skills, creativity and emotional intelligence (all prized by employers) are key outcomes of cultural learning.We believe that this Review therefore strengthens the case for all schools and FE providers to include culture and arts subjects and courses at Key Stage 3 and 4.Funding to follow the studentProfessor Wolf recommends that funding for learning should follow the student, rather than the institution. This could further open up opportunities for young people to undertake some of their learning in different institutions or environments, including cultural and arts organisations – a possibility that is supported through other recommendations mentioned below.Qualifications and Credit FrameworkThe report recommends that current obligations for all vocational qualifications to be mapped to the Qualification and Credit Framework should be lifted, with schools, college and other providers being given the freedom to deliver any qualification from a regulated awarding body.Vocational Specialism time to be limited at Key Stage 4Professor Wolf strongly recommends that curriculum specialism should be delayed. The Review states that young people should follow a common core of study for 80% of the timetable and that vocational specialism should normally be confined to the remaining 20%.Reform of performance measures for schools and collegesProfessor Wolf feels that schools are incentivised to offer qualifications to young people which do not offer identified progression routes, but which do contribute to school league tables and performance measures. In order to combat this she suggests that any A-level of GCSE equivalent qualifications that do not meet strict quality criteria will no longer be eligible for contribution. This quality criteria is not outlined in the paper and we do not yet know which qualifications would lose their contributory status.She also suggests that performance measures should be generally overhauled, with a number of different measures contributing to an overall picture. She concedes that without this reform schools could neglect lower and higher attaining pupils.Funding and recognition for employers as education providersThe Report recommends that employers should be directly involved in quality assurance and assessment activities of vocational learning at local level, opening up opportunities for arts and cultural partners to develop close relationships with schools and colleges.In addition, it recommends subsidies for those employers involved in delivering general, transferable educational skills (as mentioned above). The report goes on to urge the Department for Education and the Department for Business and Skills to discuss and consult urgently on alternative ways for groups of smaller employers to become direct providers of training – possibly through the encouragement of Group Training Associations.  This model could be extremely beneficial to small arts and cultural partners wishing to work together to offer young people rounded experiences.Clarification and evaluation of rules for the teaching of vocational content is suggested. It is currently difficult for schools and colleges to bring in industry professionals to teach vocational subjects without also paying for a qualified teacher to be present, and Professor Wolf feels that this is restrictive. Again, if this recommendation is taken forward it may open up opportunities for cultural practitioners, artists and creative industry professionals to become key partners in the delivery of education.The Secretary of State has immediately accepted the following recommendations:
  • To allow qualified further education lecturers to teach in school classrooms on the same basis as qualified school teachers.
  • To clarify the rules on allowing industry professionals to teach in schools.
  • To allow any vocational qualification offered by a regulated awarding body to be taken by 14-to19-year-olds.
  • To allow established high-quality vocational qualifications that have not been accredited to be offered in schools and colleges in September 2011.
Here at the CLA we are very keen to find out your thoughts and responses to the Wolf Report. Please contact us at to let us know how the recommendations could affect you and the work you are doing.