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Nick Boles launches another wave of reforms to vocational and technical education

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The FE sector faces another overhaul of technical and professional education after skills minister Nick Boles announced plans to produce clearer progression routes from school to high-level qualifications.

The Department for Education today said it was looking to create “up to 20 specific new professional and technical routes… leading up to employment or degree-level study, which will be as easy to understand as academic routes”.

 “Young people taking one of these routes will be able to specialise over time in their chosen field, gain a work placement while in college, and then move into an apprenticeship when they are ready,” the department added.

Its statement said the “groundbreaking” reforms would “set England’s system on a par with the best in the world”, citing the Netherlands and Norway as examples of succcessful systems. The plans would encourage colleges to engage more with the government’s plans to create 3 million apprenticeships by 2020, it added.

The current system was “too complex”, the DfE said, citing the example of a “bewildering selection of 33 qualifications to choose from” for people wanting to train as plumbers. The new routes would be designed with input from employers, who would “take a longer-term look at the skills required in the job at the highest levels and trace these back to age 16 when compulsory schooling ends,” the statement added.

An independent expert panel created to oversee the reforms includes former minister of science and innovation Lord Sainsbury, as well as Professor Alison Wolf – whose influential report published in 2011instigated a review of vocational education – Blackpool and the Fylde College principal Bev Robinson and Simon Blagden, non-executive chairman of Fujitsu UK.

“We want to help all working people be more productive and secure better wages,” Mr Boles said. “To do this we need to help them improve their skills. High quality technical and professional education for 16- to 19-year-olds is the key.”

Martin Doel, chief executive of the Association of Colleges, said colleges were “well-placed to be at the centre of the government’s plans”. 

“This is the third time in the last five years that technical and professional education has been looked into,” he added. “The independent panel needs to build on previous reports and research when addressing these issues, rather than revisiting old ground.” 

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