The House of Lords has published a report claiming that scrapping the national curriculum for pupils over the age of 14 and taking careers advice away from schools could help young people make better choices about their future.
The transition from school into work is a vital phase in the lives of young people. An increasing number of pupils are deciding to continue their education, going on to study A-levels and ultimately attend university. However, the majority of young people do not go to university; instead they find jobs or undertake some form of vocational education. Despite forming the majority of the emerging workforce, they receive much less attention, says the report, entitled ‘Overlooked and Left Behind’.
The report suggests that discarding the national curriculum at the age of 14 will give teenagers time to prepare for the workplace. Baroness Corston, Chair of the Committee, said: “The current system for helping people move from school to work is failing most young people. They are simply not being adequately prepared for the world of work. This significantly disadvantages a huge number of young people and limits their opportunity for social mobility.”
The current national curriculum sets out programmes of study and attainment targets for all subjects, at all four key stages, which is designed to guide pupils up to their GCSEs. Although it only applies to LA maintained schools, a number of academies have also decided to practise it in their school.
Currently, secondary schools are judged on a broad range of subjects, including the core subjects of English, maths and science. However, the English Baccalaureate (Ebacc) and the accompanying Progress 8 measure are set to narrow the curriculum further.
Russell Hobby, the General Secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT), reiterated the concerns of the committee: “The government’s obsession with a narrow set of subjects in a rigid framework damages the chances of young people who do not follow an academic route into work.” 
The report focusses on how to ensure that all young people are offered a high quality career path after they leave school, regardless of their choice. Currently, pupils who do not pursue further studies are deprived of coherent advice regarding options outside of academia. Therefore, young people tend to drift into further studies or into a dead-end job, which often has no real prospect of progression.
The UK has started to focus more on apprenticeships and other options which are available to those who do not wish to partake in further studies. However, the House of Lords has said: “Only six percent of 16-18 year olds follow this route and there must continue to be scope to support young people who do not follow a pathway to university or an apprenticeship to make a successful transition into the work place by other routes”. 
A government spokesperson said: “Apprenticeships give school leavers the opportunity to gain the skills they need to get on. We are committed to increasing the number of young people starting apprenticeships and to driving up quality. We have allocated an additional £25 million for 16-to-18 apprenticeship recruitment this year in support of this government’s commitment to deliver 3 million apprenticeships by 2020.” 
However, in referral to the government’s pledge to introduce more apprenticeships, the report states that the focus should be on quality rather than quantity. Apprenticeships should meet certain standards, offering young people a foundation they can build upon, and ultimately creating a route to a genuine career.
Abandoning the national curriculum for pupils over 14 will make it extremely hard for the government to measure pupils’ progress effectively. Partnered with the rolling programme of new GCSE reforms, it will be difficult to compare schools’ progress and results across the three years of reform, where results will be a mix of lettered and numbered grades, that are not easily cross-referenced. Add to this the government’s plans for all-out academisation and we could potentially be left in a bit of a mess. The White Paper ‘Educational Excellence Everywhere’ fails to inform us of plans to assist schools that are underperforming. Claims that plans will be put into place to assist schools are mentioned, but it fails to shine light on actual, concrete strategies that are going to be implemented if needed.
A DfE spokesperson said: “We have introduced a more rigorous curriculum so every child learns the basic skills they need such as English and maths so they can go on to fulfil their potential, whether they are going into the world of work of continuing their studies.”
Ironically, considering the magnitude of the reform, the national curriculum is only regarded to eight times throughout the entire report, which demonstrates that the consequences of the removal may not have been considered in-depth. Ultimately, the report fails to propose any solid plans to assist pupils who wish to pursue a vocational course and offers little evidence to suggest getting rid of the national curriculum will actually benefit them. As a result, the removal could negatively affect the careers and life chances of the very pupils the government wishes to support.
 Josie Gurney-Read (2016) ‘Scrap the national curriculum at age 14 to allow teenagers to focus on work, says Lords Report’, <http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/2016/04/07/scrap-the-national-curriculum-at-age-14-to-allow-teenagers-to-fo/> [Accessed: 11 April 2016]
 Freddie Whittaker (2016) ‘Scrap national curriculum at 14 and take careers responsibility from schools, say Lords’, <http://schoolsweek.co.uk/scrap-national-curriculum-at-14-and-take-careers-responsibility-from-schools-say-lords/> [Accessed: 11 April 2016]
 House of Lords (2016) ‘Overlooked and left behind: improving the transition from school to work for the majority of young people, <http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld201516/ldselect/ldsocmob/120/120.pdf> [Accessed: 11 April 2016]
 Charlie Cooper (2016) ‘Government drive to get more young people into apprenticeships ‘failing to deliver’ for under 24s, say Alan Milburn’, <http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/government-drive-to-get-more-young-people-into-apprenticeships-failing-to-deliver-for-under-24s-says-a6943226.html> [Accessed: 11 April 2016)