In educational superpower Singapore, the qualification of choice for 16-year-olds is the O level. You remember, the qualification we ditched in 1988 to make way for GCSEs. Sir Keith Joseph, the education secretary at the time, claimed that the new qualifications would “stretch the able more and stretch the average more”.
Few would claim that Sir Keith’s vision has materialised – hence the reformed English and maths GCSEs taken this summer. In Singapore, however, the O level is doing just fine.
Similarly, there is a peculiar split between how we perceive our own FE system and how it is seen overseas. While our apprenticeships and training may have been routinely battered at home by the likes of Sir Michael Wilshaw, elsewhere they are revered. As explained by Jonathan Ledger, global TVET specialist at the Department for International Trade, our tendency is to put ourselves down to potential overseas partners by unpicking the many idiosyncrasies in our post-16 landscape.
We don’t need to export our tangled system, with its myriad funding streams, in its entirety. But a simple model that can be adapted to different nations, based on UK strengths, would be an eminently marketable product. And, if the nascent UK Skills Partnership can get it right, a nice little earner for our FE providers, too. A coherent approach that would arm UK providers with a strong product and the nous to take it to the world has the potential to be a real game-changer, both at home and abroad.
Stephen Exley is the Tes FE editor. He tweets @stephenexley