Be wary of Tories' 14-19 plans, FE warned

30th October 2009 at 00:00
Tory apprenticeship policy could cover move to retain barriers between academic and vocational courses

The Conservative policy of promoting apprenticeships could mask a desire to retain barriers between academic and vocational courses, one of the directors of a major review of 14-19 education has said.

Speaking at east London's NewVIc College, Professor Ann Hodgson, a Nuffield Review director, said FE should be sceptical of Tory plans due to the party's record on vocational courses, despite its promise of cash for apprenticeships.

"It has focused on apprenticeships for a wider number of people because it wants to keep the academic side pure," she said. "It's worth taking with a pinch of salt."

The Nuffield Review proposed a 14-19 baccalaureate, which could incorporate existing qualifications and allow students to mix academic and practical learning. It is an idea popular with sixth-form colleges, which are developing their baccalaureates, intended to be the focus for a movement for a broader education.

NewVIc's Bacc programme adds a research project, community work and planning for a career to students' main subjects.

Professor Hodgson said: "I don't think we should underestimate the `bottom-up-ness' of the system. We talk about the weaknesses of the English system but one of its strengths is innovation on the ground, from people working within it. Policy decisions are influenced by the institutions ministers and civil servants visit."

The Tories have argued that pretending some qualifications are equivalent to academic ones is counter-productive, and that it is better to promote qualifications on their specific strengths. A party spokesman said: "If you look at our skills green paper, our view on apprenticeships and vocational education is clear: we want to raise it up so it has higher quality and status."

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