Shadow education secretary Tristram Hunt has accused the government of “turning the clock back on social mobility” through reforms such as the scrapping of AS levels.
“This decision stands as a cap on aspiration,” he said during a speech at Microsoft’s London headquarters.
According to Hunt, the government has been too focused on structures and creating new institutions, rather than building on the successes of FE colleges.
He also vowed to champion Labour leader Ed Miliband’s “forgotten 50 per cent” of young people who do not go onto study at university.
“For young people who want to pursue an excellent vocational education face a bewildering array of options that are difficult to navigate and, if we are frank, often fail to offer progression to good jobs or further study,” he said.
“Moreover, if a young person fails to get a good GCSE or equivalent pass in English and Maths at 16, they have only a one in seven likelihood of achieving it by 18. The economic cost of such poor standards is staggering, but arguably it is the social cost – the poor health, low self-esteem, weak employment prospect, stunted life chances – that is the greatest burden.”
The 157 Group of colleges welcomed Labour’s acknowledgment of the importance of vocational education for the economy, adding that it was unfortunate that the party continues to refer to it as something for the “forgotten 50 per cent”.
“This morning’s speech outlined a coherent and well-articulated vision of the purpose of our education system as a whole, and we believe that the vision of an education that skills you for work, success and prosperity by being closely linked to employment is something that should not be restricted only to those who do not go to university,” said Lynne Sedgmore, executive director of the 157 Group.
“It is clear that Mr Hunt understands the important contribution that FE colleges can and do make to economic growth – it is a shame that he did not mention, alongside his comments about ‘inadequate’ providers, that the percentage of colleges graded ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ by Ofsted has increased year-on-year. He knows from his own experience in Stoke-on-Trent that the local college, led by 157 Group vice-chair Sarah Robinson, is precisely the kind of college that can exist in every town and city across the country. These are the kinds of messages that the 157 Group will be sharing with policymakers across the political spectrum over the coming months.”
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