Education reform that’s not a Tech Bacc in time

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Yesterday the Government announced its plans for a Technical Baccalaureate (aka the TechBacc). Some of what has come from the Government in terms of education reform - the proposed EBacc and draft curriculum for example – has been slated for trying to make education like it ‘used to be.'

Yesterday's announcement finally demonstrated that the Government is now focussing on what the education system ‘needs to be' to secure our economic future, to compete on the global stage and to give young people the skills, qualifications and experience that they need to succeed.

The idea of a TechBacc has been circulating for quite some time now, not just from the Government, but also the Labour Party, and also the Baker Dearing Educational Trust (the masterminds of University Technical Colleges) with the help of key employers.

Whilst we have continued to give the nod to each of these proposals, we were waiting for action, and yesterday we finally got it. So what will the TechBacc entail and why is it good for young people and employers?

It's worth noting that the TechBacc is a performance measure (in the same way as an EBacc is) - it is not a qualification in itself. But that does not mean it won't have worth or be effective – quite the opposite.

For starters it will finally put vocational education on the same (don't like to use the phrase but going to anyway) parity of esteem as academic learning.

Whilst there has been a major drive to increase the status of vocational education, in particular the commitment to increase the quality and quantity of Apprenticeships, we still have some way to go.

Within the UK, 69% of 16 to 18 year olds undertake academic study, with 31% studying vocational learning. This compares to Switzerland for example, where 35% are in academic study and 65% taking a vocational route.

Of course to be successful the elements of the TechBacc need to be right.

Government is kicking off with a ‘high quality Level 3 vocational qualification' – a good move for our industry as manufacturing employers' are increasingly looking to offer Advanced and Higher Apprenticeships.

There is also the focus on ‘high quality', which goes hand-in-hand with the work the Government is doing to ensure only the best courses, recognised by employers count towards league tables.

We know from our own survey data this is not the case as only one in five manufacturers agree vocational qualifications are more relevant now than two years ago.

Next up we have a Level 3 ‘core maths' qualification, including AS level maths. Sometimes I get a little nervous when ideas are thrown around suggesting that ALL young people study maths until 18, but that is because we need to address the content of maths that is taught in schools if young people are to leave the education system with the numeracy skills needed by employers.

If ‘core' really means those maths skills that will help that young person excel in a future Apprenticeship, job or further study then yes we should progress and we await for the DfE's announcement on what this will be.

Finally there is the ‘extended project', designed to develop the learner's skills in writing, communication, research, self-discipline and self-motivation.

These again are skills that are not only valued by employers, but required by employers.

Three-quarters of manufacturers prioritise attainment in English and maths when recruiting Apprentices for example and a quarter rank interpersonal skills highly.

What is most significant from yesterday's announcement is the commitment to involve employers in the design and development of these elements.

The appetite amongst employers to input into the design and development of qualifications was clear from the development of the Engineering Diploma (and the redesigning of the Diploma into a suite of qualifications following its downgrade) as well as the introduction of University Technical Colleges.

But initiatives such as the Engineering Diploma - and now the Tech Bacc - which involve partnerships between schools, colleges and industry in developing new courses and exams require a long-term commitment and significant investment of time to succeed. It was the lack of this that undermined Engineering Diplomas and it is important that lessons are learned in the development of new ideas and how we progress with the TechBacc from here.

But I don't want to end on a (relatively) low point, as yesterday's announcement heard cheers from the manufacturing industry, which has seen the status of academic learning overshadow vocational education for too long.

Let's ensure success of this new measure – ensuring all three elements are rigorous, high quality and deliver young people with the skills they need to progress and succeed.


Head of Education & Skills Policy

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