Radical reforms to ‘over-complex’ technical education system announced

The skills minister has outlined major reforms to the technical education system that will replace thousands of courses for students who have finished their GCSEs.

Students that opt for the technical option can choose from up to 15 routes into skilled employment. Credit: Monitoring 

The Post-16 Skills Plan has accepted every one of Lord Sainsbury’s recommendations made as chair of the independent panel on technical education in November 2015. Students will be offered15 straightforward routes into technical employment.

The report found the current technical education system to be confusing and unclear, leaving students with a ‘dizzying choice’ of up to 2,000 qualifications delivered by 160 different organisations. For example, a budding engineer must choose from a possible 55 courses.

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Skills minister Nick Boles said that Britain has “all the ingredients” needed to compete with other skilled nations but stressed government must work with employers and post-16 providers to improve the technical education system. 

He added: “The Skills Plan is the next step towards that goal, building on the progress we have already made by investing in apprenticeships, and creating a skilled workforce that is the envy of every other nation. This won’t just help our young people get the best jobs but it will also boost our economy benefitting us all.” 

The Skills Plan proposes a new system where students who have finished their GCSEs will be able to choose between the “academic option” – comprising of A-levels leading to an undergraduate degree – or the new “technical option.”

The report said “this will signal the end of 16-18 students being able to opt for a mixture of academic and vocational qualifications, and is likely to lead to greater specialisation in individual providers and schools”.

Students that opt for the technical option can choose from up to 15 routes into skilled employment, including engineering and manufacturing, transport and logistics and agriculture, environmental and animal care. Crucially the content for those routes and the accompanying standards will be set by an employer-led body.  

Each route will take place either at a college and include a work placement or through apprenticeships. The first routes will be made available from 2019. All technical routes will build in English, maths and digital skills, according to employers’ needs, and will set standards of excellence ‘that are every bit as demanding as A levels’.

EngineeringUK chief executive, Paul Jackson, said: “The proposed introduction of a ‘transition year’ to give young people the opportunity to focus on bringing their skills in key areas up to the required standard is particularly welcome. Indeed, we would welcome such an approach on broader scale underpinned by government funding.

“Putting employers front and centre of the development of the routes and providing more structured work placements as part of a technical education programme will have a positive impact on the work-readiness of those entering employment, with new recruits and employer both reaping the benefits.

Stephen Tetlow, chief executive of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, welcomed the ‘ground-breaking and radical initiative’. 

He added: “However to ensure these changes support all parts of our economy, we require clarity on the proposals, especially on the role and responsibilities of the Institute of Apprenticeships, and the future funding structure of further education in light of the recent EU Referendum.

“Furthermore, before any of the recommendations of the report are implemented, government needs to develop clear joined-up national and regional policies for growth, which include energy, infrastructure, transport and healthcare provision.

“Without these policies in place, it will be difficult, if not impossible, to judge where and when the priorities for funding apprenticeships should be focused. We need to ensure people have the right technical training and skills in disciplines where there is demand and that are critical to the country’s prosperity, such as engineering which is worth £455.6 billion to the UK economy every year.” 


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