Don't make young people choose between academic and technical pathways, report tells government

A new report by the Education Policy Institute calls on the government to ensure that FE reforms fit into the wider educational debate, and to end to the 'crude' levy target of 3 million apprenticeship starts by 2020

Will Martin

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The government's ongoing reforms of technical education must fit into the wider education agenda if they are to be a success, according to a new report by the Education Policy Institute (EPI).

The new report, by an independent advisory group of employers and sector leaders, states that the government must “not close off options of further study and long-term career development" by discriminating between academic and technical pathways.

It also advises that the government should scrap its “crude” apprenticeship target – currently set at 3 million apprenticeship starts by 2020 – and focus instead on quality and the benefits that apprenticeships can bring for learners and employers.

The study, entitled Educating for our Economic Future, is the second report by the independent advisory group, chaired by former Imperial College London rector Professor Sir Roy Anderson, and follows Pearson UK's Making Education Work­ report in 2014.

'Narrow pathways'

David Laws, executive chairman of the EPI, said: “Successive governments have sought to simplify the technical education system. This is a laudable ambition but there is a risk that this tips over into over-simplification. Children should not be forced into an either/or choice of academic or technical at the age of 16 – jobs and careers don’t fall into such simple categorisation and we must allow for a mix of academic and technical skills from age 16 on.”

And Rod Bristow, a member of the panel and president of Pearson UK, said: “There is a risk that, post-16, the bifurcation between an academic education and training for a job denies young people the chance to combine academic and practical learning in the pursuit of a career education; to become technologists, not just technicians. I welcome this report as further evidence that career education pathways such as Btec, which combine academic and practical skills, have a vital role to play in educating the next generation”.

'Forced to choose'

Professor Sir Roy Anderson, said: "The government is progressing some promising reforms to post-16 education – but it must make sure these form part of a coherent vision for education that avoids people being forced to choose among narrow pathways with too little understanding of the labour market consequences. That vision should be delivered carefully, and in a way that is not unduly steered by simplistic targets for apprentices and the uptake of three-year undergraduate degrees.

Association of Employment and Learning Providers (AELP) chief executive Mark Dawe added that employers could not be blamed for a system design that drove certain behaviours. "AELP is a firm supporter of all-age apprenticeships precisely because of the skills challenges facing Britain which are described in the report. Nevertheless, a rebalancing of incentives is needed so that more young people are offered opportunities. It’s good to see the report highlight the importance of digital skills. We would like to see basic applied skills in these within every apprenticeship for those who need them alongside English and maths."

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Will Martin picture

Will Martin

Will is a junior reporter at TES

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