Britain must drop its ‘snobby’ attitude to technical and vocational education or risk being left behind after Brexit, Education Secretary Damian Hinds will warn in a keynote speech to business leaders today (6 Dec).

As the government marks the one year anniversary of its modern Industrial Strategy which aims to boosts the nation’s productivity and put the UK at the forefront of the AI and data revolution, the Education Secretary will set out his plans to get more people into skilled jobs that command higher wages.

These include:

  • A new generation of Higher Technical Qualifications - an alternative to a university degree to help more people get on in their careers and employers can access the skills they need. These qualifications at “Level 4 and 5” – like Diplomas of Higher Education and Foundation Degrees sit in between A Levels and a degree in subjects like engineering and digital. The kind of training that helps someone step up from being healthcare support worker to a nursing associate or a bricklayer to a construction site supervisor. 
  • Reforming the pupil destination measure -  the information we publish in school and college performance tables about what higher study or training pupils go on to do after they leave - to create one measure that shows how many young people are doing higher training of any type. The new destination measure will show separately how many young people go on to study degrees, higher technical apprenticeships or Higher Technical Qualifications like a Higher National Diploma.
  • Matching skills to jobs - a package of support for Skills Advisory Panels - local partnerships between public and private sector employers, local authorities, colleges and universities - to assess what skills are needed in their local area.

david hughes 100 x100Responding, David Hughes, Chief Executive, Association of Colleges, said:

“Industry have been crying out for skilled workers across most sectors and our continued side-lining of technical education has only made it worse.

"A recent survey of SMEs showed that more than half fear that the country will get left behind if the government does not address the skills gap – with six in ten reporting that it’s more difficult to find employees with the right skills than it was five years ago.

"To address skills gaps, to boost industry, and to build our economy, the government needs to stop ignoring the people who do not take the traditional university degree route.

"The Secretary of State is correct; educational snobbery exists throughout all strands of society - especially amongst decision-makers and opinion formers – and it has led to educational ignorance around non-academic routes to work.

"This renewed focus on higher technical education, and the push for greater awareness and respect, can only be good for industry, good for the economy and good for the country.

"Having campaigned for years on this, we will continue to work with government to make this work, as well as helping them to shape their T level offer.”

kirstie donnelly 100x100Kirstie Donnelly, MBE, Managing Director, City & Guilds Group, said:

“At a time when skills development is critical to the UK’s future, it is reassuring to see the Government’s continued commitment to technical and vocational education and to see that a longer-term, ten-year view of this is being adopted. If, as set out by Education Secretary Damien Hinds this morning, the range of options and choices for post-16 study are to be recognised and valued by learners, FE providers and employers, we need to ensure these qualifications have parity of esteem with traditional educational routes, with equity of access and progression.

“We also welcome the ongoing roll-out of T levels into a broader spectrum of sectors and the introduction of benchmarked success against existing UCAS qualifications is encouraging to see.

“However, we urge the Government to engage with all parties involved in the post-16 and Level 4/5 qualification review to ensure clarity of progression pathways. Priority must be given to the outcomes of those reviews well in advance of the planned introduction of T levels; while pace is important, sustainable success is even more so and any new system needs sufficient time to bed in.

“Mr Hinds is also right to highlight the unfair and unhelpful stigma attached to technical education, which remains a critical part of our future economic success. Research from the City & Guilds Group and ILM earlier this year found that these kind of preconceptions prevent employees from accessing valuable training funds to improve their most glaring skills gaps. This research found that more than half of businesses believe that those working at the middle and senior level would be unwilling to be seen as an apprentice, despite the valuable opportunities they present to the individual, organisation, and the country.”

Emma Finamore100x100Emma Finamore, Editor,, said:

"With Brexit – whether it’s a deal or ‘no deal’ scenario – on the horizon, science apprenticeships could help fill the staffing gap left by dwindling numbers of people moving to the UK for work.

"Organisations have already started to see a decline in the flow of talent from the EU to the UK. According to the Wellcome Trust the organisation has already started to see signs of a decline in the flow of talent from the EU to the UK.

"If we can fix this imbalance, and continue the rise in science apprenticeship uptake, it should be a positive thing for the industry, for young people, and for the whole nation."

Alan Woods OBE 100x100Alan Woods OBE, CEO of Vocational Training Charitable Trust:

“The Education Secretary’s comments reiterate what many parents, teachers and learners across the board have been saying for years – that there is simply far too much pressure on students at schools to pursue an academic route, and not enough information or credence given to vocational career paths.

“It is imperative that young people know all the options when considering what career path they want to follow, and if the UK is to truly create a viable, diverse and sustainable workforce which is equipped with the skills we need, then we need to change hearts and minds.

“The fall in UK apprenticeship starts further demonstrates the urgent need for action to be taken; employers need further clarity around the Apprenticeship Levy and young people need the confidence of employability.”

Mary Curnock Cook, said:

"Building serious technical education pathways post-16 might be difficult when the key stage 4 curriculum is highly focussed on the core academic subjects, with the EBacc largely mirroring the Russell Group’s facilitating subjects. 

"There surely needs to be some underpinning pre-16 education in technical areas to shape and motivate pupils’ interests towards further technical education.  And if T Levels duck the issues of literacy and numeracy (low levels of which tend to point students to current vocational routes post-16), the quality imperative for a successful, valid and popular technical route will be lost."

Dr Greg Walker, Chief Executive of MillionPlus, said:

"The Secretary of State’s speech seriously underplays opportunities for work-related, employer-designed education offered in higher education at Level 4 and 5. Universities, particularly modern universities, offer a range of provision in the guise of Foundation degrees and Higher National qualifications.

"University-provided sub-degree qualifications are also often part of the higher apprenticeship offer to employers within Standards. They are also leading the charge on developing and implementing high-quality higher and degree apprenticeships that are of huge value to work-based students."

David Robinson, Director of Post-16 and Skills at the Education Policy Institute (EPI), said:    

“Our research confirms that England suffers from an overemphasis on bachelor's degree level study, and we welcome the government’s renewed focus on higher level technical qualifications, which have long been undervalued. Giving employers a greater role in the development of these qualifications will help ensure that young people gain the specialist skills to meet the needs of the labour market both now and in the future.

“The government is also right to broaden the way that it measures the destinations of school leavers, to consider the level, rather than just the type of institution, that young people go on to study at. It should go further by developing these measures to also take into account the ability of each school’s intake, so that meaningful comparisons can be made between schools.”  

Matthew Fell, CBI Chief UK Policy Director, said:

“Building a world-class skills system that matches the might of our universities is critical for our country’s competitiveness. As we leave the EU, it’s now more important than ever that young people can access the high-quality training that they and their employers need to succeed.  

“With employers crying out for these skills, technical education must be put on an equal footing with more academic qualifications. Awarding UCAS points for T-levels, getting incentives right by reforming pupil destination measures and increasing the supply of Level 4 and 5 qualifications will open up this important route to a great career.

“The direction of travel on T-levels is positive, and more collaboration between businesses and the Government will help ensure current technical skills reforms are long-lasting and prestigious.

“The Government can make sure technical education works by clearly setting out how companies can get involved with T-level work placements and by providing more detail on how Skills Advisory Panels will deliver for local areas.”

Adam Baker, Director at leading facilities management company ABM UK, which launched the UK's first Junior Engineering Engagement Programme in 2018, said: 

"The work being done to encourage more young people into engineering is much needed and very welcome. Bringing parity to T Levels and A Levels is a strong step in the right direction, and will help to profile technical careers in their true light; life-long, lucrative and fulfilling, often coupled with high-level training. 

“There are some signs of improvement. For example, recent research which we commissioned on the perception of technical careers revealed that just 16 per cent of young people considered technical roles to be ‘for boys’. With 89 per cent of the UK’s current engineering workforce being male, this is promising! It means that for the vast majority of young people, a gender barrier has been crossed, and that the workforce across technical industries in the future will look incredibly different to what it does today.   

“As a next step, we'd like to see a similar offering to that of UCAS but for apprenticeships; a system that truly profiles all pathways available to young people. This is vital if we’re to close skills gaps and boost industry in the UK."

During his speech, Mr Hinds will argue that the default route and measure of success for young people should no longer just be an academic one, and unless Britain drops that mind-set it will never close the productivity gap with its European neighbours – an ambition that is more crucial as we leave the European Union.

Underling the importance of closing that gap, he will highlight that Germany, France, and the US all produce over 25% more per hour than the UK. He will say that if Britain matched Germany on productivity it could boost taxes available for public services by tens of billions more a year.

He will say:

“As a nation I’m afraid we’ve been technical education snobs. We’ve revered the academic but treated vocational as second class - when we do it well, law, engineering, medicine - then we don’t even call it vocational.

“Why has this has been tolerated for so long? I think the reason is the “O.P.C” problem. For so many opinion formers, commentators and, yes, politicians: vocational courses are for ‘other people’s children’.

“Young people not on the A-level route have two years of government funded education when they turn 16...precious time, precious investment… And all too often it’s time and money used to train them to a low level in a skill the economy doesn’t need.

“Today, Germany, France, the US – all produce over 25% more per hour than the UK. And, actually, this productivity gap with Germany and France first opened up in the late 1960s, further back still with the US. This gap matters. In terms of our public services – matching German productivity would allow government to spend tens of billions of pounds a year more.”

The government has already kick-started a technical education revolution, working with employers to introduce new, gold standard T Levels from 2020 – the technical equivalent to A Levels – and to create more high quality apprenticeship opportunities. These will help put Britain’s technical education system on a par with the best in the world, like Germany, Netherlands and Switzerland.”

To build on this work, the Education Secretary also announced today:

  • The next seven T Level programmes to be taught from 2021: Health, Healthcare Science, Science, Onsite Construction, Building Services Engineering, Digital Support and Services and Digital Business Services.
  • UCAS points will be awarded for new T Levels with each programme carrying the same UCAS points as three A Levels – so young people, parents and employers know they are as stretching as their academic equivalents and will act as a stepping stone to progress to the next level whether that is a degree, higher level technical training or an apprenticeship.

He will say:

“We also need to make clear to young people, and their parents – that a degree is not the only path to a great job. I’m clear that the school that gets a young person onto a higher apprenticeship deserves as much praise as when it gets someone to university.

“To be clear, the message here is not don’t do a degree – the message is you don’t have to do a degree. We want young people to acquire the higher qualifications that lead to high skilled, more rewarding jobs – whether through a degree, a higher apprenticeship or higher technical qualifications.

“I want us to break down some of the false barriers we’ve erected between academic and technical routes. I don’t see any reason why higher technical training shouldn’t be open to certain A-level students as long as they have the prerequisite knowledge and practical skill.

“Equally, I want T Level students, that want to, to be able to go to university to do relevant technical degrees.” 

Today’s announcements are the latest step in the government’s work to overhaul the technical education and vocational training system.

T Levels will be the technical equivalent of A Levels, combining classroom theory, practical learning and an industry placement. The first T Level courses in education, construction and digital will be taught in around 50 further education and post-16 providers from September 2020.

Find Resources here for providers delivering industry placements with capacity and delivery funding.

T Level Resources

T Levels are being developed by and with the industries who will benefit from the skills these qualification will provide. We are working with more than 200 businesses, including Fujitsu, Skanska, and GlaxoSmithKline, to help design the course content to make sure young people taking T Levels are equipped with the knowledge and skills that employer’s value.

The new programmes will be backed by an additional half a billion pounds of investment every year when the new qualifications are fully rolled out. The Government also recently announced an extra £38 million to support the first T Level providers to invest in high quality equipment and facilities in advance of their introduction.

As well as this, the Government is investing £20 million to support the further education sector to prepare for new T Levels. This includes the £5 million Taking Teaching Further programme, which aims to attract more industry professionals to work in the sector, and the £8 million T Level Professional Development offer to help teachers and staff prepare for the roll-out of the new qualifications.

There are over 350 high quality apprenticeship now available in a wide variety of jobs from planning officers to agriculture to accountancy. The number of people starting on these high quality apprenticeships is growing with 43.7% of total starts last year compared with just 4.8% in 2016. These high quality apprenticeships are longer in length, and with more off the job training than apprenticeships of the past.

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