Maggie Jones on Michael Gove's elitist education policies
This week I will ask Lord Hill, the Education Minister if the government’s much heralded new EBacc proposals risks sidelining the forgotten 50% of young people whose skills and talents lie in vocational learning. His boss Michael Gove’s current obsession lies firmly with the narrow band of academic subjects which the Russell Group value for university entrance. These are set to dominate the new curriculum agenda at the expense of other crucial subjects.
Major concerns are already being raised by academics, parents and employers alike that sufficient teaching time will not be available for qualifications such as computing, technology, art and music which will provide the bedrock of our future economic success. Equally, subjects such as sport, PSHE and citizenship, which are fundamental to the wellbeing of young people, will face a fight to retain quality teaching time in the light of the changes.
There are also major questions about the changes to the examination system now being proposed. Whilst it makes sense to move to one examination body per subject, the decision to abandon modular testing, controlled assessment and coursework in favour of one catch all exam has not been justified and risks narrowing the learning experience further.
However, there is a more fundamental gap in the government’s proposals. For too long the emphasis has been on the 50% that go to university. Whilst this still matters, it is time to match the quality of education for those seeking an alternative, vocational route. This challenge is soon to become increasingly sharpened when the school leaving age is raised to 18 for all young people. It is vital that a broad, engaging curriculum is provided with a high status school leaving qualification available for all.
That is why Labour is developing proposals for a Technical Baccalaureate to provide a gold standard vocation qualification at 18. This will include an expectation that English and Maths will be studied, and will transform business engagement in schools through involving them in accreditation of qualifications and providing programmes of work experience. It is set to form part of a bigger drive to expand apprenticeships, giving businesses more control over training budgets, requiring all large firms with government contracts to provide apprenticeships and introducing a Fast-Track scheme for apprentices in the Civil Service.
This is an example of Labour’s One Nation policies in action – providing a quality education and recognising the potential of all young people, not just a narrow elite.
Baroness Maggie Jones of Whitchurch is a Shadow Education Minister in the Lords
Published 21st October 2012