The new year will include the introduction of T-levels – which makes this an ideal time to celebrate the best that vocational education can offer, says Anne Milton

One of the great privileges of my job is the opportunity to meet apprentices, their employers and brilliant training providers.

Whether it’s visiting Leeds Teaching Hospital – where I saw how our high-quality nursing apprenticeships are helping to make sure the NHS can continue to get the skilled staff they need – or seeing the amazing work by engineering apprentices at Airbus, there is always one common theme: how apprenticeships can transform lives; the impact they make on people’s futures; and the positive energy they bring to employers.

That’s why I was thrilled to attend the National Apprenticeship Awards last month, to celebrate the brilliant achievements of all the winners and nominees.

The ceremony not only showcased the fantastic apprentices, but also celebrated the employers and the training providers.

I wish more people could see what I saw that evening. The incredible energy and passion in the room was palpable and the event was a strong reminder of how an unrelenting focus on quality pays off. Quality has always been and remains at the heart of our reforms, and is at the heart of what providers deliver.

That’s why we recently announced updated and strengthened guidance detailing our new, more robust, approach for providers looking to apply and secure a place on our register of apprenticeship training providers. This will make sure any provider is of consistently high quality.

The ‘snobby’ attitude towards technical education needs to change

Our new tougher approach builds on checks that were already in place, but provides greater assurance that public money is being used effectively. I would like to thank all those who took the time to respond to our review. Your feedback has been invaluable and has helped us to shape this new process.

Last week the Damian Hinds, the education secretary, set out his long-term ambition for technical and vocational education. I was really pleased that in his speech he underlined the need for Britain as a nation to change its “snobby” attitude toward technical education. Our academic system should rightly be celebrated, but we also want technical and vocational routes to be equally celebrated. It is more important than ever that we all make sure we offer the next generation the widest choice of high-quality technical training options that match the best academic options.

I know many of you share this view. The education secretary set out a number of new measures, which include national standards for higher technical qualifications and a new destination measure to recognise those schools and colleges whose pupils not only go on to study degrees, but also higher technical apprenticeships or higher technical qualifications.

To coincide with his speech we published our second T-level action plan that shows the progress we have made this year. The plan details the next seven T-levels that will be taught from 2021, including one in healthcare science and onsite construction and how providers can apply to teach them. Do take a look and apply! Also, if you haven’t already, do take the time to respond to our T-level funding consultation. It is a chance to have your say and help us to shape this system. Your views are vital so that we can make sure T-levels give young people the technical skills they need and our economy the workforce it needs.

It is an exciting time for the sector and I’m really looking forward to building on this work in the new year. And now I’d like thank all the readers who’ve taken the time to read this and all my previous columns. This is my last FE Week column for this year, and so I want to thank FE Week for its journalism over the past year and wish all readers a very merry Christmas and a happy new year. See you in 2019!