From education to employment

Sector’s response to the Wolf Review

Professor Alison Wolf

The sector has responded to Professor Alison Wolf’s independent review on the role of Vocational Education for 14-19 year olds. There have been sensational headlines around the value of VQs, and 16 year olds having to re-take English and Maths qualifications until they achieve a grade C… but what does the sector think about Professor Wolf’s report?

Association of Colleges (AoC):

Martin Doel, AoC chief executive, said:

“The difficulties facing young people in today’s labour market are not a reflection of the quality of vocational education per se – they are instead fundamentally related to the state of the economy, the challenges colleges and others face in picking up the pieces where pupils leave school with few or no qualifications and an education system that has centrally prescribed qualifications.

“Colleges would recognise that the market value of vocational education is, in a large part, dependent on the expertise of those teaching it – this is why colleges welcome the recognition in the report that they have a strong track record in delivering high quality vocational education, and that there would be benefit in them having greater freedom to deliver this training in ways that meet the needs of more young people, their communities and their future employers.

“We particularly welcome Professor Wolf’s recommendation that colleges can play a leading role in vocational education for students from the age of 14 and the recognition that lecturers in colleges have much expertise to offer young people fully justifying equivalence in their teaching status with school teachers.

“We also appreciate the importance of English and Mathematics in ensuring young people have successful careers and fulfilling lives, and look forward to working with the Department for Education to see how colleges can further contribute to meeting this critical objective.”

Association of Learning Providers (ALP):

Pre-apprenticeship issues need to be resolved if Wolf’s vision is to be realised, say vocational learning providers

The body representing the independent providers who deliver the majority of Apprenticeships has today responded to the Wolf review by welcoming the professor’s focus on the importance of 16 to 18 Apprenticeships.

However, the Association of Learning Providers warned that the issue of good pre-Apprenticeship provision needed urgently addressing if the shared goal of more Apprenticeships for young people is to be realised.

Graham Hoyle, the association’s chief executive, pointed out that many young people were leaving school at 16 not ready to start a full Apprenticeship and there was a requirement for a suite of flexible provision which enabled to get young people on to the ladder to an Apprenticeship.

One of the envisaged routes was through the government’s Foundation Learning programme for 16 to 18 year olds, but Mr Hoyle said: “Many providers are concerned that they are unable to design the most appropriate support for many of their clients under the current funding regime. Reports are now coming in of young people walking out of exams unprepared to cope any longer with what they considered to be a continuation of a school classroom experience similar to that which had failed to see them progress during statutory education. There are undoubtedly serious issues regarding the delivery of foundation learning to many of our most vulnerable young people which need to be addressed if Professor Wolf’s vision for Apprenticeships is to become a reality.”

The Institute for Learning (IfL):

IfL has welcomed Professor Alison Wolf’s recommendation, in her independent review of vocational education, that further education teachers with Qualified Teacher Learning and Skills (QTLS) status should be recognised to teach in schools. This is currently not the case, although schoolteachers with Qualified Teacher Status (QTS) can teach in further education colleges. IfL is urging the government to accept this recommendation.

Toni Fazaeli, chief executive of IfL, said: “This is a red letter day for young people who in future should be able to benefit from professional further education teachers with QTLS being able to teach alongside those with QTS in schools – professionals together. In an increasingly globalised and competitive economy, it is vital that that young people have access to brilliant vocational teaching, to help them prepare for good careers with excellent employment prospects and the potential to create successful enterprises.

“IfL has consistently, persistently and insistently made the case for the professionalism of our members and for QTLS to be recognised for teaching in schools settings as well as further education, for the benefit of young people’s learning. We gave evidence to the education select committee and to the Skills Commission inquiry into teacher training for vocational teachers. We have participated in extensive negotiations with government officials, and presented the case to partner organisations. Our authoritative evidence to Professor Wolf’s consultation in October 2010 drew on the input from more than 5,000 IfL members.

“Without IfL’s leadership on this issue, our engagement with policymakers and influencers, and our efforts to persuade those who were sometimes resistant or sceptical, further education teachers would not have seen this very welcome recommendation for QTLS to be recognised in schools. This shows unequivocally the difference that IfL, as an independent professional body, can make for teachers and trainers in further education and skills.

“I want to pay tribute to the many individuals and organisations who have supported and worked with IfL on this issue. We urge the secretary of state for education, Michael Gove, to accept Professor Wolf’s recommendation, without extra restrictions and caveats.

“We are concerned that criticisms made of some vocational education may be seen to taint the whole of vocational education. A lot of excellent vocational education currently takes place in England, delivered in the FE sector by high-quality teachers and trainers. Maintaining and improving the quality of this is dependent on teachers’ continuing professional development and professionalism. IfL members are teachers and trainers whose specialist subject and vocational expertise ranges from Spanish and Mandarin, sciences and mathematics to catering and engineering and we believe it is absolutely right that those with full professional status of QTLS should be able to teach flexibly across schools and colleges.”

Baroness Margaret Sharp, formerly a Liberal Democrat spokesperson for further and higher education, said: “I am delighted that Professor Alison Wolf has recommended that further education teachers with QTLS should be able to teach in schools. IfL has been fighting for this for a long time, and at my meeting next week with IfL and with ministers, we will be pushing for this recommendation to be accepted by the government.”

157 Group of Colleges:

The 157 Group has welcomed several of the recommendations made by Professor Alison Wolf in her independent report of vocational education.

Lynne Sedgmore CBE, executive director of the 157 Group, said: “We believe the Wolf Review affirms the important role of vocational education for 16 to 19 year olds and the successful ways in which FE colleges contribute to this. Although the report is critical of some vocational programmes it is very clear that it is the centralised design of qualifications and the way they have been used by government agencies that is the core of the issue not colleges.

“We have argued consistently for the relaxation of central control of qualifications and so we particularly welcome the recommendation that funding should follow the learner. In our ‘Learning accounts that count’ policy paper, which we published in November 2010, we were quite clear that priorities in the further education system should be based firmly on the informed choices of individual learners and employers, and are pleased to see the explicit reference to learning accounts in Professor Wolf’s recommendations.

“We agree with the recommendations that institutions should be free to offer any qualifications they please from a regulated awarding body, and encouraged to include non-qualifications-based activity; and that young people should have more flexibility in terms of which programme level or type of qualification they can pursue.”

Frank McLoughlin, principal of City and Islington College and chair of the 157 Group, said: “We are delighted with the recommendation to make explicit the legal right of colleges to enrol students under 16 and ensure that funding procedures make this practically possible. Many 14 to 16-year-olds thrive in different environments outside school, and we believe that offering provision for them in colleges also makes good economic sense, especially at a time when we need to ensure efficient use of public funding to deliver high-quality teaching and training, with the best possible outcomes for learners. We are pleased that Professor Wolf has endorsed the need for qualified FE teachers to be allowed to teach in schools. This is testament to the professionalism and excellent standards of teaching and learning in FE.

“We need to consider the entire report in more detail, and the government’s response, but there is much to encourage us in our initial reading of Professor Wolf’s findings.”

National Institute of Adult Continuing Education (NIACE):

NIACE welcomes two major recommendations of the independent Wolf Report into vocational education for 14-19 year olds – Review of Vocational Education.

The first recommendation will contribute to the strengthening of Apprenticeships and the second – which has already been accepted by Education Secretary and commissioner of the independent report, Michael Gove – will help create a level professional playing field between schools and further education, giving young people access to serious professional expertise.

Peter Lavender, deputy chief executive at NIACE, said: “For a long time we have wanted to see parity of esteem between school teachers, with qualified teacher status and further education teachers (qualified teacher in learning and skills). The Institute for Learning has been tireless in taking this forward and will be pleased. Gove’s acceptance of this recommendation is a break-through; let’s hope there are no caveats. Is this the start of the long uphill climb to properly value the role of further education?”

Alastair Thomson, principal policy and advocacy officer at NIACE, added: “Of course Professor Alison Wolf’s report is limited to provision for 14-19 year olds preparing to enter the labour market for the first time. It would be unfortunate if necessary reforms for this cohort of young people were to distort the important and different role vocational qualifications play for people changing career, seeking labour market mobility or starting a learning journey as an adult.”

He ended: “Those whose initial schooling failed to instil a habit of lifelong learning are often motivated to return to education through vocationally-oriented courses. However modest a qualification is, it acts as an affirmation of worth and recognition of achievement – even when there’s no immediate return in terms of the pay packet. It can also help transform people’s sense of self-belief and agency. Instilling a culture of learning brings wider public benefits in terms of family life, health and civic engagement, as well as the private gains of improved personal effectiveness.”

Pearson Group:

Rod Bristow, President of Pearson UK, said: “It is essential that our education system is flexible enough to enable students to learn in ways that are appropriate to them as individuals and allow them to flourish and reach their full potential.

“Alison Wolf’s review importantly recognises that high quality vocational qualifications can offer a valued and legitimate path to both higher education and employment. For example there is clear evidence that BTECs help young people to earn more, and progress to further study or a job. Achieving a BTEC National can boost an individual’s lifetime earnings by up to £92,000, while a BTEC First can increase lifetime earnings by up to £42,000.

“The review also identifies a variation in quality and suggests that only rigorous vocational qualifications which add real value to young people’s education should be recognised in school league tables going forward. This is a goal we fully support and look forward to working with the Government to deliver.”

New Engineering Foundation (NEF)

NEF, the Vocational education think-tank and charity, recognises that there is much to applaud in the long-awaited Wolf Report. First and foremost vocational training should be prized for being fit for purpose while dud qualifications should be removed. Secondly, there should be a focus on innovation and employer’s needs in curricula development and the freedom for colleges to work with employers and to take account of future needs in defining it. And thirdly, the Government should be seen as a high-level funder and regulator but not a micro-manager and prescriber. To quote Michael Gove, the Wolf Report “is ground-breaking” – and some of the ground will be very hard and very much worth breaking.

NEF, which in the last 7 years has supported over 300 colleges and impacted over 320,000 learners, has been advocating many of the views outlined in the Report. The Foundation is pleased to see the Report recognises that the future prosperity of the UK depends on building an advanced economy founded on high-level technical skills. However, the key question for us is whether the Report will have real and lasting impact on the STEM agenda, which it does touch, if briefly. For instance, low carbon technology is growing apace and more jobs with new STEM skills will be needed to make it work. Thus, incentives that cause colleges to scan the horizon for future needs and generate the skills that will be needed for future prosperity, should be considered.

In supporting the ‘what’ of the Report, the Foundation will want to work with policy makers, industry and colleges to help work on the ‘how’:

  • National priorities like STEM are hard to reconcile with the shift of focus from government-imposed requirements to local employers and colleges shaping qualifications. How do we prevent a surplus of employer-relevant high-quality skills in one area (e.g. hairdressing) and a shortage in another (e.g. engineering).


  • How will ‘future-proofing’ qualifications actually work? The incentive to ‘invent the future’ with innovative companies and provide the appropriate qualifications is welcomed but will be a challenge.


  • Leaner regulation – of Awarding Bodies rather than regulating qualifications – is to be welcomed, but the process needs to avoid creating a new bureaucracy of validation and verification.

The key to resolving these matters lies in the capacity of local leaders to respond to the needs both of young people and employers – and of the nation. The New Engineering Foundation is well-placed to help them do so, with an impressive track record of such support that would be enhanced by enacting many of the recommendations of the Wolf Report. This will foster the vital drive for innovation, “intelligent colleges” and the civic leadership much needed in our society.

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