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New 'tech level' qualifications unveiled in bid to boost skills

New types of vocational qualifications that will count towards school and college league tables have been unveiled today as part of a government push to improve skills.

From September 2014, teenagers in England will be able to take Tech Levels or Applied General qualifications as practical alternatives to A levels.

A total of 142 Tech Levels, which have the support of business and trade groups, were published by the government.

A further 87 Applied General Qualifications, which will provide broader vocational study and must have the backing of three universities, were also announced.

Although both are level 3 qualifications comparable to A-levels, they will be reported separately in performance tables to other academic qualifications.

To count in the 2016 performance tables, both will need to be able to demonstrate that they lead to a job, apprenticeship or further study, such as university.

Among the new Tech Levels is a diploma in professional patisserie and confectionery, which has the backing of the Calcot Manor country hotel in the Cotswolds.

Kawasaki has endorsed a diploma in motorcycle maintenance and repair principles, while the Royal Ballet School has backed a qualification in performing arts.

In addition, Vauxhall, Honda and Volvo have all given their support to a diploma in light vehicle maintenance and repair principles.

The number of young people between the ages of 16 and 19 studying vocational qualifications almost tripled between 1995 and 2012.

But, despite this, skills minister Matthew Hancock said that for too long, too many students have been taking qualifications that do not help them get a job, into training or to university.

“Our radical reforms are part of our long-term plan for the economy and will mean that for the first time young people will know which qualifications are backed by top employers and lead to better employment opportunities,” he said.

“Tech Levels and Applied General Qualifications will give students the skills so vital to getting on in life, preparing them for employment, training and higher education.”

Dr Jean Kelly, director of professional development at the Institute for Learning, said that excellent teaching and learning would be “critical” to the success of the new qualifications and called for guarantees that learners would be taught by qualified vocational teachers who are experts in their subject.

“It is important that time pressures and access issues should not get in the way of teachers being able to work with local employers to develop responsive and relevant curricula," she said.

“Learners must be supported with a high standard of information, advice and guidance to help them commit to what will be large qualifications linked to specific occupations.”

City and Guilds, one of the awarding bodies for Tech Levels, called the new qualifications "a good start".

Its managing director, Kirstie Donnelly, said: "While this is certainly a positive step forward, the issue is not simply qualifications; it’s about ensuring we equip young people with the right attitudes for the workplace.

"80 per cent of employers think work experience is essential to ensuring young people are ready to work, yet over 40 per cent of businesses don’t work with local schools or colleges to attract new talent."

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