There is more than one path to follow

23rd January 2009 at 00:00

Our education system needs to be transformed. For those who agree, and there are many, our challenge is to ensure that in three or four years' time the rails have been laid so that education progresses along a different track.

Evidence suggests that not all young people are as engaged in education as they could be. At Edge we commissioned research into how widespread this problem is, to coincide with the launch of our policy manifesto, the Six Steps to Change.

We found that three-quarters of 14 to 19-year-olds believe the current system does not meet their needs. Almost half said that school is boring or irrelevant.

The recession provides an opportunity for profound change. We must seize this opportunity to revolutionise an education system that is letting down our young people. In the 21st century it is critical that youngsters are able to understand themselves and the world around them, and gain broad life skills while being motivated to continue learning. They need an education system that offers them the chance to be explorers - they need many paths to success.

For four years, Edge has been spreading the message that there are many paths to success - in particular stressing the need to raise the status of vocational and practical learning. In those four years we have received nothing but support. So why does nothing change?

Deep down there is still a "sheep" and "goats" attitude to education. Anything that smacks of know-how as opposed to know-what is seen as second class. Practical and vocational courses are often for other people's children.

Britain became great through the industrial revolution. Our heroes were people who changed the world through passion, determination, initiative and know-how - they were true explorers.

The Six Steps to Change manifesto aims to eliminate this current academic bias.

We are contending that breaking down the division between academic and vocational education is an essential development for young people. We have an increasing cohort of young people who have degrees, but are unable to gain graduate-level jobs. They and their parents may feel they have been mis-sold an expensive you-must-get-a-degree-to-succeed policy. Frankly, they have. We are no longer talking about other people's children.

Now is the perfect time to make it clear that a one-route-is-best system is not appropriate; education has to be transformed to ensure all young people have a genuine choice of many paths to success, both academic and vocational.

We have to bring this revolution into effect, for the sake of our education system and the sake of our society. We can not afford to miss this chance.

So, what would do if I were Prime Minster? I would personally recognise the UK's top talent every year. The strongest message of hope there could be: the 1,000 youngsters who symbolise our future. And those youngsters would range from top sports people, musicians and designers, to cabinet- makers, landscape gardeners, engineers and technology experts, to extraordinary carers, business people and commercial and social entrepreneurs, to outstanding mathematicians and scientists.

And Prime Minster, if you want, I'll arrange it for you.

For more information of Edge's Six Steps to Change manifesto, visit

Andy Powell, Chief executive of independent education foundation Edge.

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