FE sector leaders have welcomed the education secretary’s pledge to end “snobbery” around technical education – but have cautioned the process of introducing the new T level qualifications remains challenging.
In a speech this morning, education secretary Damian Hinds said Britain had to drop its “snobby” attitude to technical and vocational education. He also unveiled plans for a “new generation” of higher technical qualifications, as well as details on the second wave of T levels, due to be taught from 2021.
Shadow FE minister Gordon Marsden said Mr Hinds had not addressed “the serious flaws, highlighted not just by Labour, but by employers, providers and awarding bodies, in the way his department is handling T levels”. “This speech was simply designed to shift responsibility onto others,” said Mr Marsden.
“Across the sector concerns about take-up and viability will not be remedied by government simply marketing T levels as a competitor to A levels. We still have nothing from the secretary of state on how they intend to tackle the severe difficulties on work placements numbers - with health and safety issues hampering take-up for 16-18 year olds and not being addressed.
“There is also still no more progress on concerns about being able to cross over to T levels from academic subjects and vice versa from 16 onwards - issue we raised with government when [former skills minister Nick] Boles first announced them 2 years ago.” He added he was also concerned that there was “still no action or details on the transition year or period promised to get more young people ready and able/enthusiastic to take T levels”.
David Hughes, chief executive of the Association of Colleges, said industry had been crying out for skilled workers across most sectors.
“A recent survey of SMEs showed that more than half fear that the country will get left behind if the government does not address the skills gap – with six in 10 reporting that it’s more difficult to find employees with the right skills than it was five years ago. To address skills gaps, to boost industry, and to build our economy, the government needs to stop ignoring the people who do not take the traditional university degree route.”
Mr Hughes said the education secretary was correct, and educational snobbery existed throughout all strands of society, “especially amongst decision-makers and opinion formers – and it has led to educational ignorance around non-academic routes to work”. “This renewed focus on higher technical education, and the push for greater awareness and respect, can only be good for industry, good for the economy and good for the country. Having campaigned for years on this, we will continue to work with government to make this work, as well as helping them to shape their T level offer.”
Matthew Fell, CBI chief UK policy director, said: “Building a world-class skills system that matches the might of our universities is critical for our country’s competitiveness. As we leave the EU, it’s now more important than ever that young people can access the high-quality training that they and their employers need to succeed.
'Positive direction of travel'
“With employers crying out for these skills, technical education must be put on an equal footing with more academic qualifications. Awarding Ucas points for T levels, getting incentives right by reforming pupil destination measures and increasing the supply of level 4 and 5 qualifications will open up this important route to a great career.
“The direction of travel on T levels is positive, and more collaboration between businesses and the government will help ensure current technical skills reforms are long-lasting and prestigious.
David Robinson, director of post-16 and skills at the Education Policy Institute, said: “Our research confirms that England suffers from an overemphasis on bachelor's degree level study, and we welcome the government’s renewed focus on higher level technical qualifications, which have long been undervalued. Giving employers a greater role in the development of these qualifications will help ensure that young people gain the specialist skills to meet the needs of the labour market both now and in the future.
“The government is also right to broaden the way that it measures the destinations of school leavers, to consider the level, rather than just the type of institution, that young people go on to study at. It should go further by developing these measures to also take into account the ability of each school’s intake, so that meaningful comparisons can be made between schools.”