From education to employment

Keeping up the pace of education policy change

The accelerated pace of technological change often seems relentless.  Last week Twitter announced that it is closing down Vine, the video sharing service it purchased for almost £25 million less than four years ago. Despite a loyal following – witness the veritable outpouring of lamentation from Vine devotees – the six-second video app couldn’t compete with its younger competitors Snapchat and Instagram.

In our rapidly changing world, the regular events and anniversaries which populate the calendar can be a useful marker of where we are. One such occasion is the Edge Annual Lecture which took place on 19 October. Last year I attended as a member of the audience. This year I had my Edge badge on.  It certainly doesn’t seem like 12 months ago!

Since the last Edge lecture, we’ve had a referendum, a change of personnel in government and, in just the last few weeks, some swift policy changes.  The education agenda has shifted rapidly in a few short months.

This year Edge was delighted to welcome the Minister for Apprenticeships and Skills, Robert Halfon MP,  who gave his first public speech since he took up the role. Obviously Ministers will always talk to their brief, but Robert is genuinely passionately about apprenticeships and the opportunities they can open up for young people, particularly those from less affluent backgrounds. He was the first MP to take on an apprentice in the House of Commons and encourages other MPs to do the same.

‘As Skills Minister, I want to make sure that everyone has access to high quality education, which is why I am supporting the excellent work of the Edge Foundation to raise the status of technical, practical and professional course and their role in ensuring all young people get the skills they need for the future.’

Robert signalled a very clear commitment to not only expanding the opportunity for technical and professional learning, but to ensuring the quality of courses and recognition of the value of technical qualifications; they must be acknowledged as an attractive and viable pathway to careers and employment and not just a second-best option for young people less academically inclined.

They say a week is a long time in politics and since the Edge Annual Lecture this has proved to be true. The day before I write this, the Government tabled a Technical and Further Education bill  in the House of Commons. While the majority of it related to FE Institutions, significantly it included the announcement of a change in the name of the Institute of Apprenticeships to the Institute of Apprenticeships and Technical Education.  Sometimes a change of name does make a difference and this clearly signals implementation of the reforms set out in the post-16 skills plan. 

Edge welcomes apprenticeships and technical education coming together in this single expanded organisation. This body will have a critical role in ensuring that young people can access the high quality technical and professional education that they and our economy need.

Last week’s TES  carries an interview with Education Secretary Justine Greening who praises the ‘phenomenal rate’ of learning she witnesses at a recent visit to a University Technical College (UTC) in Didcot, and acknowledges that UTCs provide an option for young people more suited to a ‘technical education route’.

For over a decade, Edge has campaigned for parity between technical and professional  and academic education.  In a short week, we have seen some small, but significant shifts in thinking amongst policy makers. There is much more to do to ensure all young people have the opportunity to fulfil their potential.  We continue to campaign for better careers information, advice and guidance for students, profound employer engagement between schools and colleges and business and a streamlined 14-19 phase blending academic and technical subjects.

Affecting changes in behaviour, attitude or policy can sometimes seem an enormous task, but rapid change does occur reflecting the pace of technology around us. The positive voices we’ve heard from Government in the last couple of weeks in encouraging and makes last year seem like a long time ago.

Alice Barnard is chief executive of Edge

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