Press release: Technical and professional education revolution continues

Plans for ground-breaking reforms to technical and professional education (TPE) which will set England’s system on a par with the best in the world were announced by Skills Minister Nick Boles today.

The reforms will focus on simplifying the currently over-complex system, working in direct partnership with employers to ensure the new system provides the skills most needed for the 21st-century economy.

This new system will help more young people get a fair shot in life by giving them the right skills and a clearer route through education, and help them get an apprenticeship as soon as they are able.

The government has already stripped out thousands of low-quality qualifications which were not valued by employers from league tables, following a trailblazing 2011 report from Professor Alison Wolf.

As a result, more than 3,000 worthless courses like marzipan modelling and balloon artistry were removed, and companies are helping shape new content to create gold-standard qualifications.

For the next stage, the government will learn from some of the best systems around the world to put in place a small number of clear and high-quality routes.

Skills Minister Nick Boles said:

We want to help all working people be more productive and secure better wages – to do this, we need to help them improve their skills. High-quality technical and professional education for 16- to 19-year-olds is the key.

We want to help young people gain relevant skills by offering them technical and professional courses that are focused on a specific career. I am delighted that people with huge experience in business and education like David Sainsbury, Simon Blagden, Bev Robinson and Alison Wolf have agreed to advise us on how to design a technical and professional education system that is the envy of the world.

England now has one of the best university systems in the world, with academic routes that are easy to understand for young people.

However, compared to other countries, technical and professional education is still too complex, confusing young people and failing to adequately deliver the employees of the future that business needs. Students aiming for a future in plumbing, for example, are not presented with a clear route into the job but with a bewildering selection of 33 qualifications to choose from. That is why the government is determined to create a system that is high status and clear.

Up to 20 specific new professional and technical routes will be created, leading up to employment or degree-level study, which will be as easy to understand as academic routes.

These new routes will lead young people from compulsory schooling into employment and the highest levels of technical competence, which for many will mean moving on to apprenticeships as quickly as possible. The government is committed to ensuring the large majority of young people go into university or an apprenticeship, and has pledged to deliver 3 million quality apprenticeship starts by 2020.

Young people taking one of these routes will be able to specialise over time in their chosen field, gain a work placement while in college, and then move into an apprenticeship when they are ready.

To deliver the reforms, the government will work closely with an independent expert panel, headed by Lord Sainsbury, former Minister of Science and Innovation.

Neil Carberry, CBI Director for Employment and Skills policy, said:

Giving young people clarity about the status of their vocational qualifications, and their links to a great career, is essential to building confidence in these vital routes to high-skill, high-pay jobs. Government’s commitment to developing these routes is welcome.

To be successful, these routes and the qualifications within them will need to be relevant to employers and stable over time, and businesses look forward to working with the government to achieve this. Within these routes, we want to see gold-standard technical and professional qualifications that share the valued A level brand, as a sign of stability and rigour.

In a decisive break from the previous approach, the content of each route will be designed with direct input from employers, who will take a longer-term look at the skills required in the job at the highest levels and trace these back to age 16 when compulsory schooling ends.

The government will work with the panel to improve TPE, making sure all young people follow a programme of study that allows them to see clearly how it leads to the world of work.

The panel will be made up of experts from industry, as well as further and higher education, and will engage with the sector and business community to decide what these routes will be. The government will publish findings in the spring based on the panel’s recommendations.

The members of the panel are:

  • Lord Sainsbury (chair)
  • Professor Alison Wolf
  • Bev Robinson (Principal and Chief Executive of Blackpool and the Fylde College)
  • Simon Blagden (Non-executive Chairman of Fujitsu UK)

The government also will be involving a university vice chancellor.

Notes to editors

  1. The reforms follow the government’s productivity plan, published in July, which sets out an ambition for a technical and professional education system that “provides individuals with clear, high-quality routes to employment, and that supports the government’s overall fiscal and economic objectives”.
  2. As well as making routes clearer for students, the reforms will support the upskilling and reskilling of the workforce, raising the life chances of adults as well as young people. The high-end technician skills gap in particular will be addressed through the reforms.
  3. Currently, only 6.9% of 17-year-olds are doing apprenticeships and only 33% of apprenticeships are delivered by colleges – by engaging colleges much more with apprenticeship training these reforms will significantly raise this proportion.
  4. The government is taking an evidence-based approach by learning from some of the best technical and professional education systems, including the Netherlands and Norway.
  5. The government has also been working with businesses and local enterprise partnerships in preparation for the area-based reviews to reshape the FE sector, with a positive response. The reviews will bring together colleges, local enterprise partnerships and local authorities to redesign and restructure provision to align capacity with local economic priorities.
  6. As well as leading to a stronger and more resilient post-16 provider base, this will lead to the development of a new network of prestigious institutes of technology and national colleges to deliver high-standard provision, and support progression to employment in the most economically productive technical and professional disciplines.

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