Ed Miliband’s proposals for a Tech Bacc are welcome but perceptions still need to change, so that the vocational route is no longer seen as a second-class option, says David Grailey, the chief executive of NCFE.

Ed Miliband was persuasive and engaging when he focused on tackling youth unemployment and reforming the education system so that it works for all people, including the “forgotten 50 per cent” who don’t go to university.

I was especially interested in the creation of a German-style “Technical Baccalaureate”; a gold standard qualification based on a mixture of vocational training and compulsory work experience. The Labour leader is positioning this Tech Bacc as a viable alternative to Michael Gove’s more academic English Baccalaureate.

However, those achieving the qualification will still have to pass maths and English courses to ensure that they have the necessary numeracy and literacy skills.

There is certainly a lot we can learn from continental-style vocational education. Take Switzerland as an example – a country with one of the most successful apprenticeship systems in the world and a resulting youth unemployment figure of just 7.5 per cent (in contrast to 21.9 per cent in the UK).

It’s interesting to see how our European neighbours have embraced other pathways to employment; the challenge for the sector is whether the UK can replicate the model with the same success.

A lot of work has already been done in raising the status of vocational qualifications in the UK; apprenticeships continue to rise in popularity following the recent increase in university tuition fees, and there has been substantial government investment in this area. However, perceptions still need to change – the vocational route is still often seen as the second-class option compared with its academic counterpart.

Every young person is different — armed with individual talents and skills that should be nurtured and recognised.

Yes, of course students should be competent in core subjects such as English and maths, but this does not need to be to the detriment of high quality, rigorously assessed, “gold standard” practical qualifications. After all, for every budding doctor, there is an aspiring music technician or travel rep.

There is a lot we can learn from continental-style vocational education

It is important that each young person achieves his or her potential; leaving the education system as a well-rounded individual with the motivation to succeed, and with the personal qualities and skills that employers need.

Any exam system needs to recognise a broad range of talents; not narrow teenagers’ options at a young age.

We should all be working to improve the prospects of young people as the key to economic growth. There needs to be a collective sense of responsibility between educational establishments, awarding bodies, employers, and those in government.

At NCFE, for example, we have formed a partnership with recruitment specialist, REED, to position colleges as effective recruitment centres for local businesses – as well as being places of learning. Through this kind of collaboration, we have opened doors for many young job seekers eager to find work.

Labour’s proposed Tech Bacc comes at a time when we are overwhelmed by transformations in the sector (consider the changes to 16-19 and 19-plus funding, the Richard Review, the government’s Youth Contract, the proposed changes to key stage 4 qualifications, not to mention the new Ofsted inspection framework).

However, this is one policy that looks to be a step in the right direction, ensuring that the “forgotten 50 per cent” are not forgotten but instead, are celebrated for their own achievements and   instilled with the confidence they need to progress in their post-education lives and careers.


Your thoughts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.