The head of Ofsted, Sir Michael Wilshaw, will argue today that a "one-size-fits-all" education system is failing schoolchildren who want to pursue a more technical career path.
In a speech today, Her Majesty's Chief Inspector will warn that the education on offer for children who do not do well at age 16, or who do not want to follow an academic route, is "inadequate at best and non-existent at worst".
"The country cannot continue to fail half its future,” he will say. "Our responsibilities as educators do not end when students fail to attain our targets.
“The great comprehensive school headteacher knows that a one-size-fits-all model of secondary education will never deliver the range of success that their youngsters need. Some of our international competitors understand this probably better than we do."
In his address, Sir Michael will acknowledge the need for a strong, core academic curriculum, but say that children who are not academic should not be neglected. "On the contrary, the written off and the 'failed' need our help most and we should never forget it," he will insist.
Sir Michael will also point out that other nations, such as Germany and Switzerland, have more flexible education systems that meet the needs of both students and their economies, and as a result suffer from lower youth unemployment.
Sir Michael's speech comes amid a continued push by the government to encourage children to study traditional subjects, including English, maths, science, a foreign language and either history or geography, up to GCSE under the English Baccalaureate. Ministers have argued that studying these subjects will give children a good grounding for their future.
Speaking about his time at Mossbourne Academy, Sir Michael will say: "Even when I was head at Mossbourne Academy in Hackney, which had a great academic reputation, 20 per cent of youngsters failed to reach our targets. Most of them went to a local FE college, usually a large, impersonal and amorphous institution, and did badly."
In response, University and College Union general secretary Sally Hunt Sir Michael was "wrong to dismiss further education colleges as simply having failed the pupils that struggled academically at his schools". "All young people deserve access to the best education that most suits their needs, and this is something the government’s forthcoming area reviews need to focus on," she added.