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Budget: T levels will raise the status of technical education, says chancellor

UK still lagging behind competitors with regards to technical education and training, according to Philip Hammond

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UK still lagging behind competitors with regards to technical education and training, according to Philip Hammond

The new T-level qualifications will end the “lingering doubt” about the parity of esteem between academic and technical education routes, chancellor Philip Hammond has said.

In his Spring Budget speech this morning, Mr Hammond said that while Britain had a world-leading academic route, the truth was that the country was "languishing near the bottom" in international league tables for technical education. “Long ago, our competitors in Germany, the US and elsewhere realised that to compete in the fast-moving global economy, you have to link technical skills to jobs," he said, adding that although the new apprenticeship policy was tackling this, doubt over partity of esteem persisted. "Today, we end that doubt for good," he said.

'A good blueprint'

Mr Hammond explained that the work of Lord Sainsbury and Baroness Wolf had provided “a blueprint to follow”. “Their review concluded students needed a much clearer system of qualifications – one that is designed and recognised by employers, with clear routes into work, more time in the classroom, and good quality work placements," said the chancellor. "One that replaces the 13,000 qualifications with just 15 clear, career-focused routes.

“Today, we will invest to deliver in full these gam- changing reforms,” Mr Hammond added. It had emerged on Sunday that the government planned to increase the number of hours of training for 16- to 19-year-old technical students by over 50 per cent, and for this to include a high-quality, three-month work placement. This would ensure, Mr Hammond said, that when these learners qualified, “they are genuinely work-ready”.

Once this was rolled out, he added the government would invest an additional £500 million a year in 16- to 19-year-olds, and there would be maintenance loans for those undertaking higher level technical qualifications at new Institutes of Technology and national colleges, similar to those available at universities.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said the “small amounts committed today” were “long overdue, and woefully insufficient”. 

'The real test will come'

Chris Jones, chief executive of the City & Guilds Group, said: “While today’s Budget contains much to provide hope, as ever, the real test will be in what happens next. Without effective implementation, these reforms simply will not deliver the skills reforms to help Britain’s businesses thrive now and in the future.”

Mark Dawe, chief executive of the Association of Employment and Learning Providers, said ongoing financial support was crucial for small and medium-sized enterprises which wish to offer apprenticeship opportunities. "Smaller businesses which are outside the apprenticeship levy’s scope account for over half of these opportunities, many of which are in areas of the country where there are few or no levy paying employers," he said.

And University and College Union general secretary Sally Hunt said that if the chancellor wanted a country that was match-fit for Brexit he needed to look at a rounded funding package that covers young people and adults and introduce it now, not at the end of the decade, so that colleges are not at a standing start when the new technical routes kick in.

“Plans for technical education to have parity of esteem with degrees are not new, but we need more detail on these plans, not simply news that the government have earmarked technical courses as a way for more students to pay fees,” she said.

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