Student reward for basic skills

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The Independent Online
The Government wants to make sure that sixth formers qualify in the key skills of communication, number and information technology so beloved of employers. Lucy Ward, Education Correspondent, finds there could be money in it for those who do.

Sixth formers who can prove their ability with words, numbers and computers could be rewarded with larger student loans when they go on to university under proposals being considered by the Government.

In an effort to encourage pupils to develop number, communication and information technology skills, still not formally required of A-level students, ministers have put forward a range of possible incentives or penalties, which indicates the seriousness with which key skills are being regarded. They include offering an extra sum in loans to those who have qualified in key skills before university - a deal that may prove attractive to future students who will have to contribute towards tuition fees and cover their full living costs. Or key skills could be linked to A-level grading, preventing students gaining certain grades unless they had achieved a key skills qualification.

The proposals come in "Qualifying for Success", a government consultation paper on the future of post-16 qualifications, published yesterday.

The document, which also asks for views on the development of an overarching advanced certificate encompassing A-levels and general national vocational qualifications, stresses that key skills are not about setting right poor basic skills. It says: "They are about putting basic skills to work in new contexts to support the changes and transitions that are part of everyone's experience. People with a solid grounding in the key skills ... will have a head start in the workplace and beyond."

However, the National Union of Students yesterday greeted the concept of financial rewards for key skills qualifications as "bewildering". A spokesman for the NUS, which is planning protests around the country next month over the proposed imposition of tuition fees, said: "We don't understand why people who are more qualified should get more money. It doesn't make any sense. Surely if extra money is available, it should be targeted on students from poorer families, not those who already have advantages."

Government sources stressed that financial incentives for students with good basic skills were "just one of a range of options".

A new qualification in key skills - covering "communication, application of number and IT" - is being piloted in some schools this year.

The latest consultation builds on a report on 16-19 qualifications published by former government curriculum advisor Sir Ron Dearing last year. After its election victory, the Labour government said it would postpone planned reforms amid fears rushed implementation could cause chaos.