Opinion: Technical Matters

Chris Jones discusses the new report from Policy Exchange.

21 January 2013 / Be the first to comment

A new report from the think tank Policy Exchange warns that students are suffering from the lack of an alternative to traditional academic studies and suggests that a distinct vocational and technical route through education may reduce dropout and disengagement. We couldn’t agree more.

Whilst the report addresses a number of familiar themes, it is a very welcome addition to the debate as it argues robustly for a clear vocational pathway with strong employer engagement and impartial careers advice and guidance. Interestingly, the report highlights that some £300m of tax payer money is wasted as 31% of disengaged A-level students drop out without completing their studies. At a time when the Government is keeping a close eye on all public spending, this figure is bound to catch their eye.

Policy Exchange makes the case for an alternative route which combines a robust academic core, strong progression and flexibility and choice for students. It argues for many of the ideas that we at City & Guilds have espoused for some time including involving employers in curriculum decisions and quality assurance; ensuring labour market relevance of technical-vocational education; and stronger policing of careers information, advice and guidance to ensure impartiality.

In particular, the importance of effective careers advice cannot be underestimated. All too often we hear about young people being directed down a route that isn’t necessarily right for them, or indeed not receiving guidance at all. Our recent report, ‘Ways into Work: views of children and young people on education and employment’ revealed that one third of the 3000 17-18 year olds surveyed had not received any careers guidance. Meanwhile, although 64% of 14-18 year olds had received careers advice from their teachers, just 14% rated this as ‘very useful’. It is certainly encouraging therefore, to see the report’s suggestions for a funding system reform where funding incentives do not lead to young people being persuaded to make the wrong choices for them.

Another key area of interest in the report is the debate on the appropriate length of an apprenticeship programme; the report calls for apprenticeships to be redefined as an intensive three year training programme with significant education and workplace learning requirements. Whilst at City & Guilds, we understand the importance of ensuring apprenticeships are of high quality, prescribing a three year course would not necessarily give employers the flexibility they need to offer apprenticeships that are appropriate to their sector.

‘Technical Matters’ is one of the first reports on vocational education in 2013, and we hope this will set the tone for a constructive debate on vocational education reform in what promises to be a year of much change in vocational education.

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