Brexit Britain's vocational education policy is in bits

With polls suggesting the election will seal the Brexit deal, the Tory approach to vocational education is a car crash

Ed Dorrell

Ofqual announce more detail on technical qualifications

If we thought we knew one thing about the impact of Brexit on education it was that it would surely – SURELY – lead to better funding and better thought-out vocational education in this country. The great minds of Whitehall and education would be forced to turn their attention to this most unloved and underfunded of sectors.

I even wrote an optimistic Tes leader about it back at the end 2016.

And so it is slightly flabbergasting, if one stops to think about it, that almost exactly three years later, on the cusp of an election that if the polls are to be believed will likely seal the Brexit deal, the government’s policy on vocational education is a car crash.

The apprenticeship levy overspend

Its two flagship initiatives are teetering on the brink. As Tes FE editor Stephen Exley pointed out this week, all three political parties recognise in their manifestos that the apprenticeship levy, revealed to so much fanfare in 2015, is in need of major corrective surgery. The full extent of the overspend and under-delivery of this policy is remarkable even by Whitehall’s standards.

Stephen even suggests that the levy may only be saved by postponing the delivery of T levels, the other set-piece policy that is in big trouble.

Due for launch next year – against the recommendation of senior Department for Education civil servants – there are very, very few educationists who believe that this attempt to replicate the so-called “gold standard” in the vocational sector will work. Indeed, there’s a good chance ministers may force it to take down the perfectly acceptable BTEC suite of qualifications at the same time.

In most education circles, if you mention T levels you are met with either a sardonic laugh or a rant about how their entry criteria and curricula are designed in entirely the wrong way for the cohort of young people they are supposed to serve.

It is time to face facts: the apprenticeship levy is, at best, a mess and there is no sign that T levels will be any better. (And that’s before we even begin to discuss the mystery of the non-existent Institutes of Technology.)

If next Friday we wake up to a Conservative-majority government then Brexit will become a matter of not if but when. The freedom of movement that has done so much over the past decades to paper over this country’s skills deficit will be about to come to a shuddering halt.

The promise of extra funding will not be enough. The new government a week today (whatever its hue) must try to do much, much better when it comes to vocational education. Recent history doesn’t give me much confidence that it will.

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Ed Dorrell

Ed Dorrell

Ed Dorrell is deputy editor and head of content at the TES, former features and comment editor and former news editor. 

Find me on Twitter @Ed_Dorrell

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