Fixing “constant underperformance” in technical education should be “the top priority” for the UK, but pursuing parity of esteem with academic qualifications is "pointless and impossible", a former Department for Education special adviser has said.
Writing on Twitter today, Jon Yates said there were a number of reasons why the UK was “crap” at technical education.
Mr Yates advised Damian Hinds, when he was education secretary, but left government when his boss was demoted from the cabinet last month.
He said there was too much of a focus on schools, and “not enough on colleges” – “which is a problem as the top priority by far should be to fix the UK’s constant underperformance at technical education”.
Background: New technical qualifications needed, says Hinds
Technical education overlooked
“Despite all the noise, our education system is OK at academic teaching...but we have been crap at technical education though for 70+ years. Why? Fundamentally, because people with influence (politicians, journalists, business leaders) don’t think about it.”
He said the reasons for this lack of attention were the small number of those people of influence who themselves were further education students, technical education being rarely talked about in the public discourse and a public view that it is for “disadvantaged, stupid, not very capable students”.
Mr Yates said that in his time at the DfE, the department received “thousands of letters about school funding, hardly any about college funding”, despite the fact that the government funds colleges “well below other rich countries". “No one external to the department ever made this point to me,” he said.
The public’s disinterest in technical education meant that when the government decided to “fix” the system, “no one pays attention”. “People would say that Damian Hinds wasn’t doing much radical reform when he was making the biggest reform of technical qualifications for a decade,” said Mr Yates.
Contrary to popular belief, the UK was not the only country where there was no parity of esteem between vocational and academic qualifications, but trying to achieve it was “madness”, he added. He said it was “totally pointless and impossible”: “Lots of countries have great technical education. None of them have parity of esteem. Including Germany.”
"Academic courses will always have the halo of higher esteem. That’s life. So let’s forget about it. Who cares? We don’t need parity of esteem. Germany doesn’t. Focus on quality, not esteem. By 'quality' I mean, will the course get you a skilled job? If it will, enough esteem will follow. Today, too often, it doesn’t.”