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Ideal chance to raise the vocational game

This week's annual VQ day offers a chance to refocus our efforts on raising the esteem of vocational learning across the UK.

Participation and attainment rates are improving in the further education sector but the quality of the output remains low. This is largely because most learners enter vocational education and training from an unequal position relative to their academic peers. The low expectations that accompany this create human and financial waste. Also, not all the qualifications available today meet the needs of a young person making the transition to adulthood and seeking to acquire skills, knowledge and know- how for their new social and professional lives.

To address these issues, we must first look at the urgent need for careers advice to be integrated with all stages of education from child development through to adulthood. Alongside this, and to ensure that education continues during work-based training, we need a new proxy for an initially qualified worker. This would mean introducing a minimum entitlement to learning up to a full level 3 qualification. Only at this stage do we begin to equip young people with the range of skills, knowledge and attributes that constitute a platform for work and continuing personal and vocational growth.

We know from our - salutary - contacts with the best vocational training systems that this level of attainment is not too much to ask of almost all our learners. Through our work at UK Skills we constantly engage with young people who may appear unpromising because of their starting points, only to marvel at their skills and maturity after just a few months' involvement in rigorous vocational training.

Preparing the system to offer such a minimum entitlement would, however, be complex, given the self-limiting beliefs that stalk vocational education and training. Nonetheless, the new commitment to vocational education and training in general, and apprenticeships in particular, offers the perfect context for a brave resolution to shed restrictive notions and raise our game.

Simon Bartley, Chief executive, UK Skills and WorldSkills London 2011.

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