In Manchester and nationally, Labour is on a skills mission

Only by rewiring the education system can we grow the economy and help all our young people to fulfil their potential

Only by rewiring the education system can we grow the economy and help all our young people to fulfil their potential

5 Jul 2024, 5:00

The biggest challenge facing our new government is how to kickstart productivity and deliver economic growth. I believe the answer to that challenge lies in rewiring our faulty education system so that all young people can achieve their potential.

That’s why, in September, Greater Manchester will become the first UK city-region to offer a genuine and equal alternative to the university route.

Last year, I set out my vision for a Greater Manchester Baccalaureate (or MBacc) to give all young people a clear line of sight to high-quality jobs. Since then, working with teachers, employers and young people, the Greater Manchester Combined Authority has set out to tackle a fundamental imbalance in policy, which has too long neglected technical education.

Here, only a third of young people take the university route. Yet our education system is designed around that minority. Every year, thousands of young people pay the price.

The English Baccalaureate is a case in point. EBacc subjects are geared towards what top universities value, not what our young people and employers need. The last government wanted 90 per cent of pupils to enrol in EBacc by 2025, but only 40 per cent enrolled last year and only one-quarter of 16-year-olds achieved a standard pass in all EBacc subjects.

Meanwhile, the range of GCSEs chosen by students has shrunk and the curriculum has drifted further from the needs of the labour market.

In contrast, the MBacc will guide year nine students to the subjects employers value most. Its seven sector gateways have been designed using local labour market data, with the help of some of our most prestigious employers, to prepare young people for the jobs of the future.

Digital skills will be hard-wired into the MBacc and each gateway will be brought to life by real-world experience of the workplace – built in from day one.

We’ve developed our ambitious plan at a time when educational institutions are feeling beleaguered, battling heroically to do more with less.

Not a single person has said the status quo should remain

Their first battle is with uncertainty. The last government announced plans to defund level 3 applied technical qualifications like BTECs. Labour promised to review that policy, but if they don’t reverse it thousands of young people, many from disadvantaged backgrounds, will be left with no viable level 3 pathway, adding to the number those not in education, employment, or training (NEET).

On top of this, institutions are navigating an apprenticeship landscape that’s seen a shift away from early-career development towards older workers who already hold higher-level qualifications. And with a growing 16-18 cohort, the technical education system is quite simply running out of places.

Despite, or perhaps because of this backdrop, our MBacc proposals have been welcomed by many teachers and employers alike. There has, of course, been constructive debate around the challenges and opportunities our vision presents and how best to take it forward. But what has struck me most is that not a single person has said the status quo should or can remain.

It’s because these changes are so important and so urgent that I’ve challenged the system to come together to co-develop and roll out the first steps for the new academic year.

Next week, 200 of Greater Manchester’s educators, school, college, university, and careers leaders will come together to share progress and to launch co-developed resources and activities that will be tested with years 9 and 11 in 2024/25.

They’ll be joined by employers, without whom the MBacc would not be possible – including our Employer Integration Board, made up of leaders from the seven gateway sectors.

Ours is a bold shared ambition for our young people. We know it will be challenging to deliver, but this is a moment of maximum opportunity. Devolution has given us new levers to solve our problems, and now a new government has a clear mandate for change and five ambitious national missions that recognise the power of place-based approaches.

I often say that there are young people growing up in Greater Manchester who can see the obvious signs of our thriving economy, but not the way to a job within it. In this, my third term as Mayor, my priority is to build a clear route for them – so everyone can share in our city-region’s success.

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