Levelling vocational education with academic learning

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Today Skills Minister Matt Hancock MP unveiled plans to introduce ‘Tech-Levels'.

Now it's worth starting off by saying that Tech-Levels are a different concept from the Technical Baccalaureate which we blogged on earlier this year. Whilst the Tech Bacc is a performance measure, Tech-Levels will be qualifications, introduced to put vocational education at Key Stage 5 on the same footing as academic learning (i.e A Levels).

But there is more to Tech-Levels than raising the status of vocational education. It is likely to result in a number of vocational qualifications actually being scrapped from the league tables. Given that only one in five manufacturers say VQs are more relevant now than two years ago, we need to ensure that qualifications are meeting industry needs.

The new Tech-Levels make some moves towards this, but not enough. Exam boards will need to gain endorsements from five companies, registered on companies house, to continue. This is a step in the right direction, but whether five companies is enough is questionable? But then again how many businesses are enough?

We continue to support the planned creation of Industrial Partnerships, taking end-to-end responsibility for the skills system, which we would see endorsing and accrediting qualifications that meet sectoral needs. But with Employer Ownership of Skills Round 2 bids still being reviewed, we are unlikely to see such establishments up and running any time soon.

And what does this announcement mean for the work Nigel Whitehead, UKCES Commissioner has been undertaking on Adult Vocational Qualifications? Much debate has been around what constitutes an ‘adult' qualification (16+ or 19+). I would think we would see at least some duplication of work here. What will happen if the review of Adult Vocational Qualifications recommends that a specific qualification is abolished, yet some colleges get backing from the five employers required to continue offering it?

Two-thirds of our members say that recruitment problems stem from candidates lacking technical skills, indicating that young people are not always acquiring the skills-sets required by employers. Tech-Levels may help to address this as they will need to prove they can lead into an Apprenticeship, employment or further study.

In principle, the announcement on Tech-Levels is positive. Government is finally sending out the right messages on vocational education, which has previously been overshadowed by academic pathways. But to be successful Government needs to ensure that the nominated Tech-Levels have real business buy-in, and the companies endorsing the qualifications are representative of their sector.

Government also needs to ensure that it doesn't overcrowd this space, confusing learners and employers alike. Tech-Levels, Tech Baccs, Traineeships, Study Programmes, A-levels, Apprenticeships....I could go on.

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Head of Education & Skills Policy

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