Press release: Technical education overhaul unveiled by Skills Minister

Thousands of ineffective courses that short-change employers and young people will be replaced with 15 straightforward routes into technical employment creating a more skilled workforce fit for modern Britain.

Currently young people considering a technical education must choose between more than 20,000 courses provided by 160 different organisations with no clear indicator of which course will give them the best chance of landing a job.

A report into technical education by an independent panel, chaired by Lord Sainsbury, has recommended simplifying the current system so technical education is provided through 15 high-quality routes, with standards being set by employers.

In response, Skills Minister Nick Boles has today (8 July 2016) published the ‘Post-16 skills plan‘, accepting every one of Lord Sainsbury’s recommendations, while setting out the government’s innovative vision for the future of technical education.

Mr Boles called on employers and training providers to embrace the exciting plans and help turn the country’s highly able young people into the most skilled workforce in the world.

Skills Minister Nick Boles said:

Britain has all the ingredients needed to compete with other skilled nations, but we must create a technical education system that can harness that talent.

This cannot be the government’s job alone; we must work with employers and post-16 providers to unlock the potential in this country.

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, benefiting us all.

The skills plan sets out to create a highly skilled nation where no child, regardless of their background or circumstances, will be let down by the education or training they receive.

Following its inquiry, Lord Sainsbury’s panel found the current technical education system to be confusing and unclear, leaving students with a dizzying choice of qualifications. For example a budding engineer must choose from a possible 501 courses.

Andreas Schleicher, Director for Education and Skills, and Special Adviser on Education Policy to the Secretary-General at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, said:

Modernising apprenticeships has been on the policy agenda for some time already, but now the UK has a promising plan to advance technical education from a last resort to a first choice. Bringing training in line with the needs of the economy will be key to drive up productivity and prosperity.

The skills plan proposes a new system where students who have finished their GCSEs will be able to choose from up to 15 routes providing a clear path to skilled employment. Crucially the content for those routes and the accompanying standards will be set by an employer-led body.

Each route, such as health and science, construction, social care or engineering and manufacturing, 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.

Mike Putnam, President and CEO of employer Skanska UK, said:

If we are to deliver the many exciting building and infrastructure projects that lie ahead, it is essential that we create the best possible platform to enable young people to enter the industry through clear and varied educational routes.

We are keen to support efforts which increase the accessibility of opportunities to people from all backgrounds – helping to develop a more diverse and inclusive industry.

The skills plan provides an excellent opportunity to position academic and technical qualifications on an equal footing, which can only help to encourage new people into construction.

Under the reforms students will be able to move easily between technical and academic options. Those who are not ready to start an academic or technical option at the age of 16 will be able to opt for a specifically tailored, fully funded ‘transition year’ to equip themselves with the right knowledge and skills needed to move forward in their education. These routes will also be made available to adults wanting to get back into education.

The new system will put employers in the driving seat, enabling them to set out the skills they value and need the most. This will be facilitated by employer panel discussions, which will shape programmes of study and set out universally agreed standards for each technical route, administered by the new independent Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education.

Martin Doel, Chief Executive of the Association of Colleges (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 long-standing anomaly. The plan rightly sees colleges being 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 is still much detail to be worked through, however, and we look forward to working with the government and the new Institute of Apprenticeships and Technical Education to develop the new system most effectively.

A skilled workforce engendered by engaged employers and supported by colleges will be the backbone of this country’s future economic success.

Notes to editors

The reforms apply to technical education in England and devolved administrations have been made aware of the plan.

Further comments

Lisa O’Loughlin, Principal at Manchester College, said:

Here at Manchester College we work to give all our learners the best pathway for their career ambitions and that’s why the skills plan fits in with our ethos.

National standards for technical education will bring greater clarity across the system for learners, employers, and for career guidance which will benefit young people across the country. It’s great to see an emphasis on high-quality work placements while students are still studying.

Sir Frank McCloughlin, Principal of City and Islington College and Chair of the Commission on Adult and Vocational Teaching and Learning (CAVTL), said:

The work we did through CAVTL helped to raise the profile and importance of technical education. Real progress has been made in recent years but there is still work to do.

This post-16 skills plan will be a driving force in defining routes to higher-level technical education and training and building ever stronger partnerships between providers and employers.

Simon Blagden, Chairman at employer Fujitsu UK, said:

Placing employers at the heart of developing standards will be key to successfully aligning college and work-based training. When it is bedded in, this approach will have considerable potential to benefit both colleges and employers.

Professor Sir John Holman, President of the Royal Society of Chemistry, said:

I welcome this report, which will bring a clear and systematic approach to the complex field of technical education.

It will make the available routes much easier for both students and employers to understand, and will make technical education more responsive to the skills need of employers.

I look forward to discussing how professional bodies like the Royal Society of Chemistry can support well-defined routes to skilled scientific occupations.

Karen Spencer, Principal at Harlow College, said:

As colleges we are not just about courses, we are about careers – we therefore believe that any reform that brings us closer to employers mean our students gain higher skills and better jobs. The reforms will take some time to bed in, but we see tremendous opportunity and are ready for the challenge.

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