Recipe for successful, well-rounded citizens

3rd October 2003 at 01:00
There can be no national "one-size-fits-all" solution to the promotion of work-related learning in schools and colleges. Giving it statutory status in the curriculum, as we have, will help. But the way forward is through collaboration, co-operation and partnership with industry.

Employers' commitment is vital to economic regeneration. This means breaking down barriers in every community and involving people at every level. Every activity must be better planned, whether we are talking about work experience for all pupils and students or mentoring for headteachers in industry.

There is still a snobbery ingrained in our culture about vocational education. This is reinforced in those political parties actively promoting it as a policy for the working classes and less - able students. This serves only to repeat the mistakes of history.

There is now a creditable variety of high-status pathways that young people can choose, leading from GCSE, through modern apprenticeships and on to foundation and honours degrees. Some will want to stick to more traditional routes; some to specialist or vocational pathways; for others, it is a mixture of the two.

This will not work unless employers collaborate to make sure adequate work placements are available. Employers cannot bemoan the skills shortages and say that young people lack the talents they need if they fail to make a contribution. One cost-effective contribution is to offer places in the workplace.

We talk about creating a more flexible curriculum and more individualised education. I can assure you that there will be a much bigger debate on this in the near future. The Tomlinson group, reviewing the 14-19 years, will be very relevant here. Its recommendations must help ensure that work-related learning is seen as integral rather than just a sideshow.

There is considerable talk of drop-out rates at 16. We should be talking about the problems at 17 and 18. This is often the point at which young people no longer see the relevance of what they are doing. We need to turn them on to a range of opportunities that fit in with local and national needs.

If we are to remain a successful country, we need successful businesses and modern public services, we need young people with belief in themselves saying: "I want to run my own business." Where do they gain such skills and learn how to achieve?

As well as being qualified, we need our young people to be well-rounded citizens with an understanding of the world of work. We cannot leave that to only those who just happen in their early teens to be academic underachievers.

Ivan Lewis is minister for lifelong learning

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