Stewart Segal is a Non-Executive Director of Youth Employment UK and TDLC a training provider.

The Prime Minister’s speech on 19th February 2018 was a positive step towards the development of an effective education and training system.  She set out the main aim of changing “outdated attitudes” and “false boundaries” in the system. 

Although the words suggest a genuine desire to move things forward many of the phrases infer that the culture of University first has not really moved on.  If you look behind the words I think you can see that the people in power still hold some of those “outdated attitudes”.  It is not surprising that changing those attitudes is so difficult and why parents still have some of those views. 

The statement says that they are searching for “equality of access to an academic university education which is not dependent on your background, and it means a much greater focus on the technical alternatives too.” 

On the face of it a genuine enough statement but perhaps they could have said that they wanted equal access to university and other options. and what are “technical alternatives? 

Does that include a young disadvantaged person doing a Level 2 Business Admin Apprenticeship?  The statement could have read, we want equality of access to all education and training options for everyone. 

Perhaps this is the paranoia of someone who has heard it all before from people who really do not understand the real inequalities in the system.

What they say they want is to “create a system which is truly joined up.” However, the statement continually gives the impression that there is an academic route that gets you to university and a “technical” route that apparently gets you everywhere else. That is neither a realistic nor desirable model. 

We want people to be able to move between and across different routes and treating University as a “separate route" will not work.

The statement says “There are now record numbers of young people from disadvantaged backgrounds going to university, and the government is determined to build on this progress.”  It also says that they want “people from all backgrounds share the benefit of university study”.  

Again, the statements on the face of it sounds OK but it also makes it sound like the getting to University is the main goal.  They could have said, there are record numbers of young people from disadvantaged backgrounds taking technical and professional routes to work and going to university. 

I am being a bit unfair here because it is great that more people from disadvantaged backgrounds are taking that option but I think you can see how the attitudes of parents are reinforced.

In my defence the same applies to this statement “For those young people who do not go on to academic study, the routes into further technical and vocational training today are hard to navigate, the standards across the sector are too varied and the funding available to support them is patchy.” 

Most people would say this is a positive statement but it does sound like not going to university is a bit of a failure.  Why didn’t it say for those people who are not able to take a high quality professional or technical we want to improve the navigation, the standards and the funding. 

It sounds like the academic study routes are the first goal and there are lots of things wrong with the “technical and vocational” routes.  By the way isn’t going to university to become a doctor a “vocational route”.  Perhaps the year-long review will consider the very confusing and misleading terminology PMs, Ministers and civil servants use.

This is reinforced by this very strange statement.  “Where a boy from a working-class home can become a High Court judge, thanks to a great state education. And where a girl from a private school can start a software business, thanks to a first-class technical education.”  What does that mean?

I assume they mean by a “great state education” they mean that’s going straight from school to university.  Surely, they want people to be able to become a judge through different routes such as a legal apprenticeship.  Maybe even staring at a level 2 Business Administration Apprenticeship in a legal office.  

The review is called Post 18 but of course even that establishes a barrier for those who want to do an apprenticeship at 16 but you have to start somewhere. 

It is a great opportunity to have an open and transparent debate about the attitudes that preserve the “outdated attitudes” and to break down the “false boundaries” but only if they listen to the sector and more importantly the young people and older learners that the system is meant to support. 

Stewart Segal, Non-Executive Director of Youth Employment UK and TDLC

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