Magazine article Public Finance

Doing What Works

Magazine article Public Finance

Doing What Works

Article excerpt

The failure to make vocational education a credible alternative for Key Stage Four students has been one of the greatest public policy failures of successive governments.

Research by the Bow Group has revealed shocking levels of disengagement in the system. Last year alone, one in ten pupils - 75,000 - failed to obtain five GCSEs of any grade, a figure that has remained the same since 1999. Of these, 26,000 pupils fail to achieve a single GCSE.

And while the government proudly trumpets increases in the number of pupils gaining five good GCSEs, almost half of the total sitting GCSEs - some 334,600 - did not reach the acceptable level of functional English and maths to prepare them for the workplace.

This waste of young talent is breathtaking. Any system that fails so many should be labelled 'not fit for purpose'. One factor behind this is the inflexibility built into the current curriculum. This is reflected in a failure to provide diverse and credible vocational opportunities for students who are not interested in academia. We have had NVQs, BTecs, OCRs - all have failed to become an established route.

The solution lies in courses that are constructed and delivered in collaboration with businesses to give a real flavour of the practical. However, getting firms to participate will take more than woolly PR and generous endorsements.

A poll commissioned by the City & Guilds revealed that 71% of businesses wanted more government assistance to support apprenticeship schemes; and almost two-thirds suggested tax breaks. Businesses, especially small ones, are simply too busy to give up their valuable time.

A key proposal by the Bow Group is the creation of enterprise portals up and down the country. Each would be administered by the local authority's children services and economic development departments and would be a way for local public services to engage with small businesses.

The objective would be to build a network of local small businesses that could assist with training for students. Participating businesses would be exempt from business rates. As these are collected locally, it allows tax incentivisation to be administered by local authorities.

Exemptions from rates can offer a real incentive: they are the third largest item of expenditure for many businesses and the burden falls heavily on the smallest firms. According to the Office for National Statistics' Annual Business Survey 2004, they pay 6.3% of their gross value added output in business rates as opposed to only 0. …

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