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Foundation campaign bids to add vocational Edge to election

A major public consultation on vocational education has been launched in a bid to influence politicians' thinking ahead of the general election

A major public consultation on vocational education has been launched in a bid to influence politicians' thinking ahead of the general election

Edge, the vocational foundation, is inviting people to have their say on whether they would like to see greater emphasis on practical, hands-on training and skills within the education system.

The aim is to film and collate the responses to produce a programme that will be broadcast in the run-up to the national poll in an effort to shape post-election education policy. Edge has already produced a "Six Steps to Change" manifesto outlining the changes it would like to see in education (see box).

Andy Powell, Edge's chief executive, said: "Education needs to transform and we are ratcheting up the strength of the message ahead of the election. We need more emphasis on practical education.

"For decades we have known that everyone has different abilities, aptitudes and intelligence, but education is out of kilter with this."

Mr Powell said that successive government initiatives to make education system more practical by bolting on different vocational components brought diminishing returns.

"Assembly-line education is ridiculous," he said. "The recession, and the need to change the way we do things, means that it is vital that we lay the tracks for different pathways to success."

Michael Gove, shadow schools secretary, said: "We want to see better vocational education and training at all levels. That's why we have set out plans for technical academies to act as beacons of excellence in the major cities of this country, 100,000 new apprenticeship and pre- apprenticeship places, and an all-age careers service so there is more independent advice available to people about the merits of different qualifications."

David Laws, the Liberal Democrat schools spokesman, welcomed the Edge campaign.

"For too long, vocational education has been seen as second best in this country," he said. "Many talented youngsters more suited to practical learning have had to take academic courses that aren't always suitable."

Mr Laws said his party was dedicated to raising the status of vocational learning and that it would introduce a general diploma comprising many existing academic and vocational qualifications, giving practical learning parity with academic education.

The party also has plans to expand apprenticeships and increase the number of foundation degrees run in colleges.

The Government spelled out its vocational education and skills strategy in the skills white paper at the end of last year. It promised to create a new technician class of people holding high-level vocational qualifications. It unveiled a new further and higher education participation target whereby 75 per cent of those under 30 would be expected to have a HE qualification or to have completed an advanced apprenticeship or equivalent technician-level course.

It also proposed new composite honours and masters degrees incorporating vocational elements drawn from advanced apprenticeships and offered in conjunction with FE providers. University technical colleges were also proposed for 14- to 19-year-olds.

- Edge plans to launch its broadcast at an event in the House of Commons in March. Have your say at


The foundation's proposed six steps

Give young people the chance to learn in the real world.

Replace Sats with a profile of student abilities, interests and motivation.

Let students choose which educational route matches their aspirations at age 14.

Ensure excellent facilities and expert teachers for all vocational courses.

Let students specialise at age 16.

Create more centres of vocational excellence in higher education.

How people have responded so far

Difficult or non-academic young people often suffer from low self-esteem in school, and this produces negative behaviour. Practical opportunities in which they can learn skills and take pride in their achievements in the real world could turn around their lives."

"A major problem we have is that we say of our children, `He is not academic. Never mind - he can always be a plumberbuildercare assistant, etc,' instead of saying, `It's a shame he is not a practical person. Never mind - I suppose he can always go to university.'"

"I think our `one size fits all' system has badly let down our young people - especially boys, as they are often slow at academic work but brilliant at fixing things, which is what we need!"

"We have a huge pool of talented retired people who need and want to learn more, and to share and practise their skills. We need to find a way to unlock these retired skill sets for wider use across society."

"We need more flexibility in our education system - and Blue Peter add-ons really will not do. A major rethink is needed. Technical education should be a major plank of any future government planning."

"I have worked as a tutor for three years at an inner-city college. The problem is that if you flag-wave for vocational learning, the end point will inevitably be interpreted as `get a job, earn money' or a variation. This cannot be the end point to learning. It has has intrinsic value."

"Encourage the apprentice system for less academic folk. A skilled carpenter or mechanic is just as useful to the community as a graduate and deserves the same respect."

"Too many young people are being persuaded that a university course is the only option when they would be more suited to, and more motivated by, a structured training scheme that combines practical and theoretical learning.

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