"Tired old snobberies" about technical education are holding back the UK's potential to succeed in the digital economy, according to Labour’s shadow education secretary Tristram Hunt.
Speaking at the BETT 2015 conference in London today, Mr Hunt said that too many young people were seeing their talents wasted because the current system was failing to give them the practical and creative skills they need.
He argued that technical education has been a “historic failing” in English schools, and that the problem was being ignored by the current government.
"The digital revolution represents a moment of incredible opportunity for this country," he said.
"But we are failing to capitalise on this moment. A failure to reform our secondary education system to provide a high-status, high-quality route in technical and creative education, combined with tired old snobberies towards technical and creative learning that are reminiscent of the 1960s.
"We are wasting the talents of too many young people - limiting their horizons - and costing our economy."
Mr Hunt also vowed to make it his "personal mission” to transform technical and creative education and “confront the snobbery” behind the belief there is only one pathway to educational success.
His comments echo those of former Ofsted chair Baroness Sally Morgan, who recently attacked the country’s “historic failure” on vocational education and said vocational courses would only be seen as equal to academic options when more middle-class children take them.
Mr Hunt has previously announced that top-performing FE colleges in England would be renamed as "institutes of technical education" to deliver the Tech Bacc qualification under a future Labour government.
Labour also plans to introduce new "technical degrees", backed by employers and universities, aimed at the "forgotten 50 per cent" who do not go on to university.
The Conservatives accused Mr Hunt of “playing catch-up” and having “no real plan” for education.
A party spokesman said: "Delivering the best schools and skills so that our young people can fulfil their potential and succeed in life is a key part of our long-term economic plan for Britain.
"That's why one of the first things we did when we came to office was to commission the Wolf Review into vocational education that found thousands of children had been let down by poor quality technical qualifications under the last Labour government.
"As a result, this government has been able to transform vocational education with qualifications now more rigorous, commanding the respect of employers.”
Vocational education needs middle-class endorsement, says former Ofsted chair – September 2014
Ed Miliband pledges more apprenticeships as part of his '10-year plan' – September 2014
Labour proposes new college category to deliver Tech Bacc – August 2014
Labour proposes new 'technical degrees' – July 2014