Education minister heads to Germany in search of T-level solutions

The education secretary is touring Germany and Holland this week to learn more about their famous vocational education systems to aid him in the development of T-levels and apprenticeships.

Damian Hinds’ “fact finding mission” begins today and will start by visiting small businesses to discover the secrets to their apprenticeships system, according to an opinion piece he wrote for The Times.

He’ll then travel over to neighbours the Netherlands to visit some of their “top-performing” technical colleges.

“I’m in Germany this week to learn more about how they educate their young people to have the practical skills they need to support a highly productive economy,” the education secretary tweeted this morning.

His tour comes at a critical time for vocational education in England, with the launch of the Department for Education’s new technical qualifications, T-levels, just around the corner and apprenticeship numbers struggling to grow following the introduction of the levy.

Mr Hinds is likely to learn about Germany’s well-known ‘dual-system’ model, which represents two learning locations — the school and the workplace.

Firms recruit the best-qualified candidates for apprenticeships at 16 or 17; the less well-qualified normally do a full-time preparatory course at a vocational college or wait to re-apply for an apprenticeship.

Around a fifth do a specific technical A-level type qualification then take an apprenticeship before continuing to a degree at a technical university.

All employers, whether apprentice employers or not, contribute to the cost of local chambers of commerce through a compulsory levy that pays for the provision. The upside is they benefit from other services through this levy.

Almost all large German firms offer apprenticeships.

“We know Germany’s highly skilled workforce is a primary driver for their economic growth,” Mr Hinds wrote today.

“Technical and vocational training in Germany is high calibre, combining classroom instruction and on-the-job training.

“Critically, it is not perceived as being less prestigious than university, with nearly half of young Germans taking this route, often through apprenticeships.”

In the Netherlands, Mr Hinds wrote today that they “link education and work at a young age, meaning 12-year-olds are considering possible career options when they choose their subjects; with vocational options proving the most popular”.

The country also has one of the lowest youth unemployment rates in the EU, behind only Germany and Austria.

FE Week will be speaking with the education secretary later this week to discuss what he’s learnt on his travels.