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.
In a speech at Microsoft yesterday, shadow education secretary Tristram Hunt said the FE system “demands reform” if the country is to have the best skilled workforce in the world.
He said the Tech Bacc qualification should only be delivered by highly qualified teachers in colleges that have excellent links to local industry. "If we are serious about the Tech Bacc being a gold standard then it must be seen that way by all - by parents, businesses, colleges and, most of all, by young people themselves,” he said.
Mr Hunt said colleges that demonstrated excellence in vocational teaching, strong links with local businesses, and high standards of English and Maths provision would be “transformed” into the new institutes to deliver the Tech Bacc.
Mr Hunt first put forward the idea of a new category of FE institute at the Association of Colleges' annual conference last November, but did not specify how colleges would make the grade.
Today, college groups gave the idea a cautious welcome but said they would need more information.
Joy Mercer, director of policy at the Association of Colleges, said: “The Labour Party recognises that high-quality technical education is the key to improving skills and meeting the needs of businesses, now and in the future.
“We are keen to know more, therefore, about the plans to convert some FE colleges into institutes of technical education and how they will enhance what are already high standards of locally accessible vocational education in England.
“The emphasis upon teaching standards is one that colleges accept entirely, likewise the need for professionals in their area to also teach vocational education, but colleges should be able to appoint the right staff and support their professional development to meet the changing needs of students.”
Lynne Sedgmore director of the 157 Group, said the speech was a “clear acknowledgement” of the role of FE colleges in the education system.
“We agree with the analysis that too much recent educational policy change has been focused on structures and new institutions, and has failed to capitalise on the enormous successes of our further education colleges,” she said.
“If this morning’s words are a signal that a Labour government would take a different approach, then they are to be welcomed. We hope, though, that the proposed renaming of some colleges as ‘institutes of technical education’ is not a sign that the focus remains on names and structures, rather than content.”
Last month Labour leader Ed Miliband said a Labour government would introduce new "technical degrees", backed by employers and universities, aimed at young people who don't want to study traditional academic subjects.
However, Mr Miliband did not mention any role for the FE sector in the proposals, which led to the former skills minister Matt Hanock questioning his understanding of the system.
Labour proposes new 'technical degrees' – July 2014