FE colleges are the ‘national infrastructure’ for technical education

6 Dec 2018, 18:13

Education secretary Damian Hinds delivered a speech about ending “snobbery” over technical education to businesses this morning. He’s written exclusively for FE Week about his plan to tackle the issue, which includes creating a “new generation” of higher technical qualifications

One year ago this government launched the first modern industrial strategy for boosting this country’s productivity; setting out how Britain would lead the AI revolution, invest in research and development and upgrade our key infrastructure.

As education secretary, I believe one of the most critical elements for delivering this strategy is a major upgrade to our nation’s skills. It’s right that we invest in machinery and cutting edge technology; but you still need people who are trained to use it and get the most from it. More importantly, everyone deserves a chance to develop the skills that can lead to higher paid and more satisfying work.

That’s why today I set out the next stage of our technical education revolution, which will see us offer all our young people a clear path to a skilled job.

Let me say first that for any of these reforms to succeed, further education colleges are a vital partner. I’m clear that colleges, as well as universities, will play a key part in delivering this government’s industrial strategy; colleges are our national infrastructure for technical education.

Frankly, as a nation, we’ve been technical education snobs

Young people doing A-levels and degrees have always had clear routes to a job. In contrast we’ve let down some on a technical or vocational route. Frankly, as a nation, we’ve been technical education snobs. The result is that around a quarter of all 16-year-olds are essentially churning around our education system; switching between course types, dropping back to lower-level learning, or repeating study at the same level.

Of course, there is a multitude of training courses available if you leave school at 16, but so much choice isn’t always beneficial if quality is variable – and there is limited guidance on the best one to take. That is why we are introducing 25 high-quality T-level courses. Through classroom learning and intensive industry placements, T-level students will develop the skills they need to step straight into a skilled job.

As part of the T-level action plan we have published, we are setting out further details on these courses; including a grading scheme that will see students who pass receive a grade of pass, merit or distinction.

We also announced the next wave of T-levels that will be offered in 2021. This will include a new health T-level; young people completing this qualification would be able to step into various roles including as a dental nurse. We’re also bringing in a new onsite construction T-level, which will train people for jobs including bricklayer, plasterer and site carpenter.

The industry placement will be a critical part of every T-level; with students able to put into practice what they’ve learnt. We have been piloting these placements with students and businesses over the last year with great results. In an evaluation report we are publishing today, nearly 90 per cent of students said they had developed technical skills relevant to their course during their placement.

All T-level students who complete their course will be ready to step straight into a skilled job but we recognise that some will also want to progress to further training that can take them to a higher skilled job. For example, the type of training that could help you step up from bricklayer to construction site supervisor or from dental nurse to dental hygiene therapist.

At the moment our colleges and universities don’t offer much training at this level, very few students do it and, unsurprisingly, employers are also less aware of it. The education sector would call this type of training ‘Level 4 and 5’ and I think that’s part of the problem; unless you’re in the know you won’t be familiar with it.

I’m determined to properly establish higher technical training in this country, so that it’s recognised and sought after by employers, young people and those looking to progress in their career alike.

We will therefore establish a system of employer-led national standards for higher technical education. This will help identify and recognise existing and new qualifications that meet the knowledge and skills needed by employers. These qualifications should be clearly badged and easy to recognise so employers will start looking for them on CVs and advertising for them when recruiting to jobs at this level.

I’m keen to break down false barriers between academic and technical routes

We also need to start making it clear to young people that university is not the only path to a great job. That is why we are changing our school and college performance tables by introducing a new measure that will recognise schools and colleges for getting young people on to great higher training courses and apprenticeships as well as university. No longer should schools and colleges feel that they must push students down one route only in order to be judged a success.

I’m also keen to see us break down some of the false barriers we’ve erected between academic and technical routes. If T-level students want to go to university to do relevant technical degrees they should be able to. That is why I’m pleased to announce that UCAS has agreed to give a T-level UCAS tariff points in line with 3 A-levels. This reflects the size and complexity of the qualification.

By working closely with colleges and employers, we can make sure that all our young people are ready for the jobs of today and tomorrow.

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