From education to employment

Minister of State for Schools and Learners, Executive Principals briefing on 14-19 reform and Di

I would like to start by congratulating you and your colleagues at the Association of Colleges for once again putting on such an excellent conference.

And I”m delighted that my Ministerial colleagues John Denham and Bill Rammell are also both due to take part. The reforms we are making will help to encourage a seamless transition from schools to colleges and universities ““ hopefully our addresses will be as seamless.

Because it is only by joining up and seeing the entire picture ““ rather than a series of disjointed stages ““ that we can help make a success of every child’s education.

Today I want to use this opportunity to talk to you about our vision ““ and in particular our vision of 14-19 reform.

Raising the Participation Age

Earlier this month, we announced our plans to legislate to ensure that all young people participate in education and training up until the age of 18.

The most landmark reforms to secondary education since the Butler Act in 1944 raised the leaving age to 15 and “made provision” for it to rise to 16. Although as you will know, this provision was not actually implemented until 1972.

We haven”t got 30 years to spare now. The challenges that tomorrow’s world will present to today’s young people mean they will need to develop advanced skills in order to thrive ““ and not just survive ““ in the increasingly global and ever more competitive marketplace.

While more young people are now staying on in a range of different educational institutions, the fact is that we still lag well behind other countries in post-16 participation.

The UK as a whole ranks 24th out of 29 OECD countries for participation of young people aged 17.

And the challenge ahead is starker still.

By 2020, there will only be around 600,000 unskilled jobs left in Britain ““ but 4.6 million extra highly skilled jobs to fill.

Many of the highly skilled services ““ such as law, software programming and finance, towards which our economy has been shifting ““ can now be delivered electronically from anywhere in the world.

If our young people are to compete, they will need the advanced skills that they can only develop by staying on post-16.

But this is not just an economic necessity; it’s also a means to delivering social justice.

Currently, one in ten young people between the ages of 16 and 19 does not participate in education, training or work.

Of course, the proportion of such young people is down from the 1985 high, when youth unemployment climbed to record levels.

Last year, the number of 16 and 17 year olds not in education, training or employment fell by 20,000.

But educational opportunity for all still remains an aspiration, not a reality.

And because the majority of those not remaining in education are from disproportionately poor families, we have a moral obligation to make it a reality.

We know that those who leave school early without good skills and qualifications are less likely to get a good job. Currently less than half of those with no qualifications are in work compared with nearly 90% of those with graduate level qualifications.

And those who stay in education are more likely to gain further qualifications and go on to earn more in the future. Those who get five or more good GCSEs or the equivalent will earn around £100,000 more than those who don”t.

The first year of children who will all carry on learning after 16 are still in primary school now.

But we will only make the most of this new system if we get everything right that goes before it.

If we make sure that all eleven year olds are leaving primary schools equipped with the skills in reading, writing and maths that they need to get the most out of the broader, richer secondary curriculum.

If we make sure that all thirteen and fourteen year olds continue to be motivated and inspired in their education, rather than switching off and spending lessons staring out the window.

And if at every stage, we ensure that parents feel fully involved in their child’s learning.

That they have high aspirations and expectations for their child. That they are confident in advising and supporting their child in making complex and difficult decisions about their future with all of the information at their fingertips. And that they are able to plan for the future ““ for example, by helping their children financially.

We want to learn from you and your experience of attracting a wider variety of students than the girls and boys who climb the traditional academic ladder from GCSE to A level, either at school or in a sixth form college.

Earlier this week, we published a review of the lives of children and young people. The report ““ “Children and Young People Today: evidence to support the development of the Children’s Plan” ““ will be the basis of the Children’s Plan, which will be published next month.

The evidence document is the result of months of nationwide consultation with children, young people, families and all those involved in working with them.

Many of you have contributed to this and I would like to thank you for your invaluable help.

The evidence confirms what teachers and young people have long been telling me ““ namely that young people want to stay on in education, but only if the curriculum is relevant and engaging.

And while more girls than boys do tend to stay on, boys currently outnumber girls by two to one when it comes to work-based learning.

All schools, colleges and support systems need to change to improve opportunities for all young people.

This isn”t about chaining young people to their desks, but giving young people the choice to do what’s right for them ““ whether that’s in the classroom, a lab, an office or a workshop.

But we need a new way of learning to do that.


This ““ crucially ““ is where the new Diplomas come in.

We need to rise above the false and unproductive distinction that is usually made “vocational” and “academic”.

Doctors and architects are esteemed for their practical knowledge as well as their learning.

We have to extend that respect to the many other highly skilled professions that our economy needs just as much.

GCSEs and A Levels provide an excellent ladder to success for young people.

Diplomas now provide another by mixing the best of theoretical and practical learning. Real educational rigour mixed with a work-related experience. Engaging a wider group of young people and stretching the most able.

And all include a requirement to achieve the functional skills but also “personal, learning and thinking skills” ““ working with others, learning independently, solving problems creatively, which employers and universities consistently say they want.

The first five will be available from next September in 100 local authorities and from consortia involving many of your colleges.

The next five the following year, and four after that ““ with the first fourteen becoming an entitlement for all young people nationally by 2013.

Because we are confident in the progress that has been made already and because of the support that Diplomas are winning, three further Diplomas ““ in humanities, languages and science ““ have now also been added.

Bringing the benefits of this kind of learning to a further group of young people who want transferable skills that won”t confine them to a set career path just yet.

Bridging the old perceived divide between academic excellence for the elite and second best vocational learning for the rest that has held back our education system and failed so many.

As my Ministerial colleague the Secretary of State said earlier this month, with the support of universities, employers and your colleges, Diplomas could become the qualification of choice over the next decade.

And the places that teach them will in turn become the secondary education institutions of choice ““ whether that’s schools, sixth form colleges or your colleges.

Over 60 FE colleges have already committed to delivering the new Diplomas from next September.

But I urge every FE college in England to take the opportunity and get involved in delivering our Diplomas. In doing so, you will not only be improving the lives of our young people and securing our country’s future, but also raising the status of your colleges.

You already have a head start in being able to deliver them than most others.

With your help, the number of people participating in further education and work-related learning is already increasing each year.

As a result, the QCA recently reported that work-related learning and enterprise education is the best it’s ever been.

You already think well beyond what happens in your classrooms by building links with universities and employers.

With your help, a record number of young people take part in apprenticeships ““ with more than a quarter of a million now in learning; compared to just 75 000 in 1997 (up from 75,000 in 1997); and around 130,000 employers involved nationally.

And it is this kind of partnership working that has worked so well in developing the content of the Diplomas.

To make sure that they teach the right skills and knowledge, we put employers and universities at the fore of designing them.

Big employers like Vodafone, Microsoft, Rolls Royce, Channel 4, Barnados and McAlpine are amongst the 5000 businesses involved so far.

While universities like Warwick, Manchester and Leeds are all backing Diplomas as having the potential to be an excellent pathway to a degree course.

None of these are holding back and waiting to see whether the diplomas will work. They are convinced that they will be a success and want to be a part of that.

They recognise and firmly believe that these creative and innovative qualifications are unique and the best way to deliver a workforce that is ready for work and equipped with the skills, knowledge and abilities to succeed in the 21st century.

We need every employer involved to make sure they are as successful as possible.

That’s why I”m pleased to say that tomorrow, our new Diploma Employer Champion Network, chaired by Sir Alan Jones of Toyota UK, will be meeting for the first time.

Nearly two thirds of local authorities will be involved in offering the first five diplomas next year ““ ensuring that around forty thousand young people will have the chance to be part of the first generation of diploma students.

Even more will get involved the following year.

We are currently inviting applications from consortia who want to start offering diplomas from 2009 ““ either the first five or the new diplomas in which will also be available.

So this is not about tomorrow; it’s about today.

We don”t expect you to take those decisions without comprehensive advice, support and training.

That’s why we are investing around £45 million in workforce training and support so that you are fully prepared to begin offering these diplomas.

The best 14-19 Pathfinders are also hosting learning visits so that others can learn about what has and has not worked.

Young people and their families need to have information about all the options available to them when they take decisions so we”ve developed a comprehensive pack of materials for them.

Posters, leaflets and a DVD will help raise awareness of the diplomas, demonstrating the advantages of diplomas to young people, reassuring parents that they are credible with both employers and universities, and helping careers advisors and teachers to offer fully informed advice about all the options.


Of course there is hard work ahead for all of us. Change is never easy.

But it’s what you do every day that will inspire young people and turn these challenges into opportunities.

And what a golden opportunity it is that stands before us. Bringing in the true age of educational opportunity for all.

Thank you.

Jim Knight AoC Speech on 14 -19 Reform, Minister of State for Schools and Learners

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