Vocational skills to get their own ‘unashamedly aspirational’ A-level

A new ‘Tech-level’ qualification for vocational education was announced by the government today to sit alongside the A-level academic route.

They will run from next year and were described by Skills Minister Matthew Hancock as “unashamedly aspirational” — aimed at raising the status of vocational education in England.

Local employers will be asked to support Tech-levels either through work experience or by helping to design courses.

They will count towards the TechBacc, which measures the achievements of students taking vocational courses.

“With Tech-levels we will support the best technical qualifications, endorsed by employers, to help young people into the occupation of their choice,” he said.

“Tech-levels will recognise rigorous and responsive technical education. High-quality rigorous vocational education is essential to future prosperity, and the life chances of millions.”

He added: “These reforms are unashamedly aspirational and will ensure Tech-levels help people into apprenticeships and jobs.”

Meanwhile, the government announced the launch of “applied general qualifications” — vocational qualifications not directly linked to an occupation, but providing broader study of a vocational area which will need the backing of three universities.

The Association of Colleges said its research supported endorsement of qualifications by businesses and universities.

Gill Clipson, deputy chief executive of the association, said: “We support this call for endorsement, which will inevitably lead to changes in the way the system works.

“Exam boards will need to make sure that employer involvement in qualification development includes representation from national employers as well as from those representing small and medium-sized enterprises — without making exams more expensive for colleges and their students.”

The two new schemes are part of the government’s response to its consultation on the vocational qualifications which will continue to count in performance tables for colleges and school sixth forms.

Only those level three, or advanced, qualifications which have the support of businesses or universities will be included in new-look 16 to 19 performance tables from 2016, for young people taking courses from September next year.

The changes will mean that at least 80 per cent of the 5,000 current vocational qualifications will be scrapped from league tables, according to the government.

However, Shadow Junior Education Minister Tristram Hunt said the government was simply “playing catch-up” after “downgrading” the vocational pathway.

“After three years of the government downgrading vocational education, there are almost a million young people unemployed — it’s no surprise that David Cameron and Michael Gove are now desperately playing catch-up while Labour sets the agenda on skills,” he said.

“It is right that pupils have a choice of taking new vocational courses, but Mr Gove needs to reassure parents that it will be a gold standard to sit alongside A-levels and not an afterthought.”

The announcement follows Professor Alison Wolf’s report into vocational education which said that, “at least 350,000 young people in a given 16 to 19 cohort are poorly served by current arrangements. Their programmes and experiences fail to promote progression into either stable, paid employment or higher level education and training in a consistent or an effective way.”