Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Technical Education Can Increase Industry Skills; Businesses and Education Providers React to a Report That Calls for a Radical Shake-Up of Vocational Education in the UK. Jez Davison Reports

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Technical Education Can Increase Industry Skills; Businesses and Education Providers React to a Report That Calls for a Radical Shake-Up of Vocational Education in the UK. Jez Davison Reports

Article excerpt

EDUCATION has been thrust firmly into the spotlight by a Government study which champions a radical overhaul of the UK's post-16 vocational qualification system.

Headed by Lord David Sainsbury, an independent panel of experts got their heads together to scrutinise the quality of technical education - and they came up with some eye-catching findings. Their detailed report, which coincided with the launch of the Government's Post-16 Skills Plan, found "serious problems" with an existing system that was "overcomplex" and failed the needs of individuals and employers. It pointed out that Britain lagged behind other countries when it came to developing intermediate skills, a problem that had a direct impact on workplace productivity.

To tackle these issues head-on, the authors of the report called for a simplification of the current system, with thousands of current vocational and technical qualifications stripped away in favour of 15 main education routes covering areas such as construction, digital, engineering and social care.

Each route would have a "common core" that includes English, maths and digital skills as well as a specialisation in a skilled occupation or set of occupations. The idea is to give all 16-year-olds the choice of pursuing an academic career or a technical career, with apprenticeships and other vocational qualifications given the same status as traditional academic qualifications. The report recommends that the first education routes should be brought in during the 2019-20 academic year, with the others coming on stream by 2022.

Central to these plans are employers, who would be given a "much stronger role" in setting standards and specifying the knowledge, skills and behaviours that they want employees to demonstrate. An Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education would be responsible for overseeing standards of learning provision, with Government funding made available to colleges to support work placements for technical education students on college-based study programmes.

Flexibility would be built into the system, too. Students who aren't sure which path to take after their GCSEs could take advantage of a "transition year" that prepared them for further study or employment, with additional options available for those who wanted to switch learning programmes if they wished to do so.

The proposals have been welcomed by the Association of Colleges (AoC) for putting technical qualifications on an equal footing with academic qualifications.

Gillian Miller, North East director of the AoC, said: "Technical education has for too long been regarded as a poor cousin of academic study. The Government's Post-16 Skills Plan provides a welcome roadmap to redressing this longstanding anomaly.

"The plan rightly sees colleges at the heart of the reforms, with the new qualifications providing them with a cornerstone to build distinctive courses that meet the needs of employers, students and the economy. There's still much detail to be worked through, however, and we look forward to working with the Government and the new Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education to develop the new system most effectively."

The AoC said local colleges would require additional Government funding to provide the "world-class resources" needed to build a top-quality education system. The organisation also called on ministers to put extra resources behind a marketing drive that would communicate the recommendations to parents, young people and employers.

While colleges and other education providers will be responsible for delivering the training, it will be shaped primarily by the needs of employers. …

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