We have never had a system which gives everyone a clear choice of an excellent academic or technical education. Lord Sainsbury sets out a vision of high aspiration and technical excellence for our country, which I welcome.

His review explicitly rejects a model where vocational education is a route of second-choice, the aim of which is to provide purposeful activity for those who will not succeed academically. Instead it envisages a technical education route of choice which is rigorous, relevant and demanding, with a clear line of sight to the occupational areas needed in our society and economy.

The Sainsbury review is realistic in its assessment of the challenges facing our country. It is serious about setting a reform timescale that can be delivered. And it is unambiguous that our FE and Training system is the solution, not the problem. The government’s skills plan is commitment to these important objectives.

The key understanding must be that academic and technical education are different in purpose.

Technical education is highly relevant preparation for work. We need to promote technical education as that, and stop pretending it is something else.

Young people’s perspectives can change with each birthday so we need to build their confidence to think about what they want at each stage of their development.

When both academic and technical education are equally committed to rigor and excellence, then they will be seen as different approaches to different ends, rather than- as they too often are – a stream for the successful and a stream for lower achievers.

Grouping technical education into broad pathways based on occupational areas is a good idea.  It was a good idea the last time government had it, and the time before that.

However, the power of the idea must be converted into reality in two key ways.

First, we must create the standards and content by asking employers and educationalists to work hand in hand, with neither expertise excluded from the room. Co-creation and the two-way street at the heart of technical education.

And second, we must implement on a human timescale, that allows the complex worlds of industry and education to find optimum solutions and partnerships that can be honed and refined, not ripped up and dumped if they do not produce instant nirvana. A stable, self-improving system.

We need to start discussions with young people about their interests and aptitudes long before they need formal careers advice.

Vocational education is not ‘what next?’ but ‘what do I want to do?’

Young people’s perspectives can change with each birthday so we need to build their confidence to think about what they want at each stage of their development.

It may annoy adult policy makers but a 16 year old not knowing what they want to do is very human and understandable. Indeed it is probably a sign of a very mature attitude to the world of work.  That is why movement between academic and technical routes needs to be accepted and supported.

Achieving the Sainsbury vision will require an excellently skilled and highly qualified teaching workforce of ‘dual professionals’.

The ETF will work with other key partners to help ensure Government’s investment in this vision translates into excellent sustained outcomes on the ground. We are not starting from scratch – our Teach Too and Two Way Street programmes have already broken new ground in technical education practice.

Visit our new exhibition site at http://tvet.excellencegateway.org.uk to see how the future is already arriving.

Finally, as data improves and can be better linked to work, there will be challenges for education and training.

We will find many courses at many universities simply do not make economic sense for the individual. This will also expose those further education routes that do not deliver.

Our sector will need to step up and provide excellent alternatives in the face of economic accountability.

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  1. Penelope Beschizza

    Hopefully the Sainsbury vision would accommodate deaf & disabled learners, even aged over 19 (to 25, in accordance to the Educational, Health and Care Plans]in the process, not as add-ons.

    Also, to fulfil visions in the past two decades to see skilled, trained, feet on the ground brilliant deaf & disabled staffing within the ost-16 Lifelong Learning workforce.

    The new vision, we hope, would allow reasonable adjustments putting learning and time-friendly outcomes, than being driven by numbers and finance.

    The UK’s workforce deserves all those qualities in this century.

  2. I would support much of what is said here, and there seems little to argue with in the report. However, key to all this is getting employers to engage with FE (and indeed education in general) not simply because they want to be socially responsible, but because they can see the benefits: improved productivity, new and fresh ideas; upskilling of existing staff, application of up-to-date digital and social media skills.
    The development of deeper, more genuine relationships between employers and education is vital.