Prof. Alison Wolf (Professor of Public Sector Management at King’s College, London) was asked last year by the Secretary of State for Education to review how to improve vocational education for 14-19 year olds and thereby promote successful progression into the labour market and into higher education and training routes.
Her report (covered in a previous LGiU briefing) set out a very thorough analysis under three main headings: the social and labour market context; the educational context; and an audit of current provision. It made 27 recommendations, all addressed to the Department for Education (DfE) or to the DfE and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) – though many have implications for providers, employers and other bodies. Secretary of State Michael Gove, in his Foreword, described the report as “brilliant and ground-breaking”, so it is no surprise that the Government has accepted all of its recommendations.
The Government’s response (pdf) says ‘we must ensure that we learn the lessons of the excellent practice that exists in this country, and reform the incentives and systems in which schools, colleges and employers operate so that they support such excellence, not hinder it’; that is, indeed, essential. And the forthcoming consultation to refine the attributes of the best 14-19 vocational qualifications (which may well feature in future performance tables) is a vital opportunity for those involved to support that aim rather than ‘the wholesale development of new, untried and untrusted qualifications’ – of which the sector has seen too many over the past couple of decades.
It will be particularly important to ensure that the review of support for low attaining pupils (those not achieving GCSE level qualifications by age 16) – based on good practice at home and abroad – reaches conclusions based on evidence of what is working. The high proportion of young people in this group in England compared to other countries is a cause for concern, as Prof. Wolf and the Government’s response both make clear, but they are the group who suffer the most from the effects of the lack of parity between academic and vocational qualifications. Improving the quality of vocational qualifications will help (hopefully), but there appears to be some tension between the recognition that some young people’s needs are best met with a stronger vocational approach (eg. in UTCs, studio schools and colleges) and the insistence that ‘the vast majority’ should pursue a largely academic approach; the Government will need to demonstrate convincingly how its conclusions will reduce the number of young people who are disengaged.
And there also appears to be some tension between Ofqual and Ministers – as both responses imply. If that is the case, it will hopefully not undermine in any way the reforms and improvements that many young people really need to have implemented
This post is based on a LGiU members briefing written by Martin Rogers. Briefings are accessible to all officers and elected members of our member authorities. For more information on joining the Local Government Information Unit please follow this link