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OECD: consider levies to give UK vocational kick

The Government should consider compulsory training levies as a way of improving vocational education in England and Wales, a leading international body has said.

The recommendations of Learning for Jobs, a review of vocational education by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), suggested the measure as one way to catch up with international competitors in work-related training.

The report said more employer engagement was needed. "Governments in England and Wales should explore measures including those designed to reduce the cost of training, the establishment of a stronger evidence base to encourage employer support for training, and, possibly, the use of compulsive measures including training levies," it said.

England and Wales have the 16th lowest participation rate among developed countries in vocational programmes among over-15s, with only around 40 per cent taking part.

The OECD said vocational education for teenagers may be responsible for lower youth unemployment in some countries, such as Germany, where 60 per cent take vocational subjects and under-24s suffer less penalty in the labour market than any other country.

In Britain, young people are two and a half times more likely to be out of work than over-25s, compared to only one and a half times in Germany.

But the report warned that the evidence for introducing vocational studies at a younger age was ambiguous. Governments had to ensure that programmes were broad and flexible enough to accommodate students who change their career choice or labour market fluctuations.

The report also found that the UK had among the highest levels of teenagers in part- or full-time employment, many combining work with studies, despite low rates of vocational learning. This raises the question of whether businesses employing young people could be incentivised to incorporate work-based training.

Careers advice was lacking in many countries, with guidance about the labour market ill-informed and dominated by an institutional academic bias. The UK was singled out, with research showing that while students and employers regarded apprenticeships as a valid option, few teachers shared the view.

The OECD praised the Government's commitment to improving vocational education, saying policymaking was dynamic, and efforts to engage employers commendable. But it found the system more complex and unstable than in other countries, which was off-putting to employers.

It recommended that England and Wales try to learn more from international evidence on vocational education and consider establishing a national research and analysis body to achieve this.

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