23 SES 08 B, Effective Upper Secondary Education
Building effective upper secondary education (USE) systems (the final phase of secondary education involving young people between the ages of 15 and 19) has risen up political agendas because of international competition for high skill labour in what Brown et al. (2005) call the ‘Global Auction’. In balancing increased learner choice and specialization with a recognition of societal and global demands of education, European education and training systems have developed clearly defined purposes for USE and a curriculum for this phase (Le Metais, 2002).
England is an outlier in these respects, positioned at the extremes of a choice and specialization continuum. It has distinctive qualifications arrangements due to the dominant role of elective ‘A Levels’ (learners normally only take three subjects and in theory have free choice) and does not have a USE curriculum as such. England has also experimented extensively with an active education market, with an increasing range of autonomous education providers. These combined features have led to a highly divided USE system, although this is not how it is always characterised in international comparative literature (e.g. World Bank, 2005; Dufaux, 2012). Despite its exceptionalism, however, England is not immune to the major global debates about USE. Issues of curriculum content and design, 21st century competences, the certification of academic and vocational learning, participation in USE up to 18 years and the role of different contexts for learning are being interpreted in a particular ways by English policy-makers and by counter-arguments in wider civil society.
This paper will analyse the current policies of the Westminster Coalition Government that, in its policy rhetoric, seeks to promote social mobility through the acquisition of traditional forms of knowledge - the EBacc performance measure (DfE, 2010) and a suggested Advanced Bacc centred around achievement in mathematics (Truss 2012), together with the selective role of research intensive higher education institutions. We will suggest that these policies will lead to a particularly distinctive model of ‘track-based’ USE (Raffe et al., 1998). At the same time, a still subordinate professional counter-perspective has emerged around the idea of a ‘unified USE’ (e.g. Hodgson and Spours, 2012) that maps out a radical alternative to the track-based scenario. This paper proposes a new multi-dimensional model of integrated USE in England comprising a unified curriculum and qualifications framework, an area-based collaborative approach to educational provision and organization and an expansive concept of professionalism.
The paper concludes by arguing that while the dominant policy trend will continue English exceptionalism, the subordinate multi-dimensional unified approach can bring England closer to its European counterparts and begin to dispel ‘heavy fog in the Channel’ while also adding new insights into what have been termed ‘integrated’ USE systems (El-Kogali, 2012).
The paper addresses three questions:
- What are the major arguments and factors shaping USE in England?
- What model of USE might be appropriate for England in the current political and economic context?
- To what extent might a unified multi-dimensional model contribute to the conceptualisation of ‘integrated’ European USE systems?
Brown, P., Lauder, H. and Ashton, D. (2011) The global auction: the broken promises of education, jobs and incomes. Oxford: OUP. Burdett, N. (2012) An overview of upper secondary curriculum and qualifications strategies in a sample of countries. Slough: NFER Department for Education (DfE) (2010) The importance of teaching. London: DfE. Dufaux, S. (2012) Assessment for Qualification and Certification in Upper Secondary Education: A review of country practices and research evidence, OECD Education Working Paper No. 83, Paris: OECD. Halász, G. and Michel, A. (2011) Key Competences in Europe: interpretation, policy formulation and implementation, European Journal of Education, 46 (3), 289-306.2 Hodgson, A. and Spours, K. (2012) Towards a universal upper secondary education system in England: a unified and eco-system vision. Professorial lecture. London: IOE Publications. Larsonen, J. and Young, M. (1999) Strategies for achieving parity of esteem in European upper secondary education. Finland: University of Jyvaskyla. Leney, T., May, T. Wilde, S. and Hayward, G. (2007) International Comparisons in Further Education. London: QCA. Le Metais, J. (2002) International Developments in Upper Secondary Education: Context, provision and issue.s INCA Thematic Study No 8, London: QCA. Sahlberg, P. (2007) Secondary Education In OECD Countries Common Challenges, Differing Solutions. Turin: European Training Foundation. Raffe, D., Howieson. C., Spours, K. and Young, M. (1998) The Unification of Post-Compulsory Education: Towards a Conceptual Framework British Journal of Educational Studies, 46, (2), 169–187. Truss, E. (2012) Education Minister, Elizabeth Truss, speaks at the North of England Education Conference, http://www.education.gov.uk/inthenews/speeches/a00220274/elizabeth-truss-speech (accessed 27 January 2013). World Bank (2005) Expanding Opportunities and Building Competencies for Young People: a new agenda for secondary education. Washington DC: World Bank. (including presentation on this report by El-Kogali, S. (2012) Reforming Secondary Education – Lessons from International Experience, on behalf of World Bank, Amman Jordan.)
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