True vocations

Maggie JonesMaggie Jones on an issue where Labour and the CBI find common cause

Today, I will ask Education Minister, Lord Hill what his department is doing to raise the status and quality of vocational education – an area where it is increasingly apparent that the government has no plan. Labour has proposed a new vision for vocational education with a Tech Bacc at 18; Maths and English for all to 18; real and meaningful work experience; and more high level apprenticeships. We need a clear vocational route that is identifiable for young people; one that is respected by parents, employers and universities alike.

The government’s vision for education – a system that harks back to prescriptions for a society and an economy of the past – is out of touch with the current thinking from businesses. And there is an increasing chorus of opposition to its narrow view, with employers, teachers and educationalists arguing that courses should be tailored to the interests and skills of individual children rather than a one size fits all policy. 

Last week, the CBI went on the attack against the government claiming that schools were being turned into rigid ‘exam factories’.  Director General, John Cridland was quoted as saying that employers wanted school leavers who did not just possess a clutch of exam passes but were ‘rounded and grounded’, echoing our calls. 

Since tabling my question I have been contacted by a variety of organisations and individuals supporting my call for a stronger focus on quality vocational education in schools. These include the Science Council, the Civil Engineering Contractors Association and the Edge Foundation, chaired by ex Tory Education Minister, Lord Baker.

So the government finds itself panned from all quarters as being increasingly out of touch with the needs of pupils and employers. This was highlighted in a speech given by Michael Gove two weeks ago. He quoted one of his gurus, Daniel Willingham, who wrote of “the pleasurable rush that comes from successful thought”. Gove used this to justify his concentration on rote learning and the drive to pass exams, completely missing the point that for many young people, the academic path is not one that they wish to pursue. 

This is why Labour is determined to improve education for the forgotten 50% - those who will choose not to go to university. We are committed to increasing the quality of the vocational pathway, both raising the number of employers willing to take on young people as apprentices and raising the status of vocational learning so that it is no longer viewed as second best.

We will work with employers’ organisations, such as the CBI, to take advantage of the rising of the education participation to 18. We will also look to learn from international comparators, such as Germany, where all young people have a clear choice of academic and hands on learning, in varying proportions, according to their talents and ambitions. I anticipate this approach will receive widespread support from around the chamber when I raise the issue today.

Baroness Maggie Jones of Whitchurch is a Shadow Education Minister in the Lords 

Published 26th November 2012

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