Sainsbury review triggers 'biggest change to post-16 education in 70 years'

But FE sector leaders warn more detail is needed on the government's plans to create 15 new technical education pathways

Stephen Exley

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Today sees the government unveil what it has described as “the most significant transformation of post-16 education since A levels were introduced some 70 years ago”.

A report into technical education by an independent panel, chaired by Lord Sainsbury, has recommended simplifying the current system so technical education is provided through 15 different routes, with standards being set by employers.

In response, the government will today publish the Post-16 Skills Plan which confirms it will implement all of the recommendations “where that is possible within current budget constraints”.

The reforms will see students choose after their GCSEs whether to take academic or technical qualifications.Those who opt for the new technical path can then choose between a two-year college-based course (featuring compulsory work experience) or an apprenticeship. Both options will  include a “common core” of English, maths and digital skills.

Read our full explanation of what the changes will mean here.

'Another form of the 11-plus'

Skills minister Nick Boles said the new system would build on “the progress we have already made by investing in apprenticeships, and creating a skilled workforce that is the envy of every other nation.” He added: “This won’t just help our young people get the best jobs but it will also boost our economy benefitting us all.”

Andreas Schleicher, director for education and skills at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, said:  “Modernising apprenticeships has been on the policy agenda for some time already, but now the UK has a promising plan to advance technical education from a last resort to a first choice. Bringing training in line with the needs of the economy will be key to drive up productivity and prosperity.”

But shadow skills minister Gordon Marsden told TES there was a “lack of clarity” around many aspects of the plans, and said more details were needed to reassure people that the technical pathways would be as prestigious as the academic options. “People will be worried it’s going to be another form of the 11-plus,” he added.

Mr Marsden also warned that, given the implications of the UK’s vote to leave the European Union, the planned schedule for implementation was “wildly optimistic, if not to say ludicrous”.

He added that Mr Boles’ acknowledgement that the reforms were dependent on funding being available was a “big caveat”, adding: “That’s civil servant-speak for ‘You’re not going to get it all’.”

Martin Doel, chief executive of the Association of Colleges, said the skills plan brought “welcome clarity of the routes, both academic and technical, that will lead people successfully towards their chosen careers”.

However he added that additional funding would be needed to make the plans a success, with providing work experience costing “hundreds of millions of pounds” alone.

The creative arts and sport were also “under-represented” in the 15 pathways, he added.

Bill Watkin, chief executive of the Sixth Form Colleges’ Association, said: “This is an important report that reflects the views in sixth-form colleges that young people need different pathways and a structured direction to follow, and that society’s needs are for a workforce with a range of backgrounds, experiences, skills and aptitudes.”

The plans were also welcomed by Kirstie Donnelly, managing director of City & Guilds. “There is clearly still detail to be worked through but my hope is that for the first time, this plan will enable high quality technical pathways through to employment, apprenticeships and higher education, and make it much easier for young people to see their end destination and plot how to get there,” she said.

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Stephen Exley

Stephen Exley

Stephen Exley is a freelance writer, director of external affairs at Villiers Park Educational Trust and former FE editor at Tes.

Find me on Twitter @stephenexley

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