Catrin Owen reports back on Shadow Education Secretary, Stephen Twigg's speech, ‘A Blueprint for One Nation Education: Vocational Education.’

Yesterday I enjoyed the hospitality of Policy Exchange who were hosting a speech by Shadow Education Secretary, Stephen Twigg entitled ‘A Blueprint for One Nation Education: Vocational Education.’

Policy Exchange Deputy Director, David Skelton chaired the event and spoke about the report Policy Exchange published on Monday, Technical Matters: building a high quality vocational and technical route through the education system.

Stephen Twigg began by praising the work of Policy Exchange. He said that Britain needs to build the broadest possible coalition of support for change of the education system and said that Policy Exchange could help this country build a coalition in the best interests of both our young people and our economy.  However, he mentioned that the Labour Party have a different view of Michael Gove’s EBacc to Policy Exchange. Twigg argued that there was a strong consensus against the EBacc which spans across teachers, the CBI and trade unions (to name but a few organisations) and said that it is not often in Britain that we get this consensus for or against an educational issue. He criticised the EBacc because he felt there was a danger of it narrowing the education curriculum. Furthermore, Twigg added that the changes Michael Gove announced to A-levels yesterday, in his view, represents a further narrowing of our curriculum.

On vocational education, Twigg said that strengthening the skills of young people should be at the heart of maintaining this country’s competitive edge in the world market. He compared the UK with other European countries, such as Germany and Switzerland where vocational courses are much more successful. He said that without a clear focus on raising standards in technical education, he warned that this country might condemn itself to a decade of economic decline.  Twigg cited the CBI, who recently said that improving the quality of vocational education could add one whole percentage point to our economic growth. However, to do this,  which Twigg stressed several times during his speech, we need businesses to support vocational courses in colleges and schools.

Twigg outlined the country’s current system of vocational education, citing economist Alison Wolf who said that many young people gain little or no value from the current vocational education system. He condemned the government for making the situation worse with policies such as abolishing the Education Maintenance Allowance. He said that Labour’s proposed Technical Baccalaureate, outlined in Ed Miliband’s speech at Labour Party Conference, would provide quality apprenticeships for young people as not enough existing apprenticeships are currently taken up by the young.

Furthering the Labour Party’s ideas for apprenticeships, Twigg said that the Labour Party want to see fast track apprenticeships into the Civil Service and making it a requirement for firms with large government contracts to take on apprentices.  Twigg said that unfortunately, many young people go through the education system without quality information on apprenticeships. The Labour Party wants to see young people getting better apprenticeship advice, including apprenticeship ‘taster days’ in schools. He said, “I want children to aspire to a high quality apprenticeship as much as a place in Oxbridge.”  Twigg stressed that the Labour Party wants to build links between the worlds of education and work, even at primary schools. He said that this would allow the country to capture the imagination of future entrepreneurs and innovators as early as possible.

On the careers advice available to young people, Twigg said that since the responsibility to provide careers advice was given to schools by the government, most schools had severely cut back on their careers provision. He said it was absurd that the quality and quantity of careers provision has been reduced in schools, as in the current economic climate, good careers provision is more valuable than ever.  He said that the idea of doing a vocational course versus going to university needs to be a thing of the past as he wants to ensure that all young people can chose from a range of broad and balanced courses. He was keen to stress that Labour’s ‘Tech Bacc’ should not be seen as a qualification for people who don’t want to go to university, but as different route into higher education.

Speaking on the core subjects of English and Maths, Twigg praised the last government for the focus on Early Years when David Blunkett was Education Secretary and said that rising standards in English and Maths under Labour was not due to grade inflation.  He said that half of all young people aged 16 are leaving school not achieving targets in the core subjects and it was not sufficient just to provide resits for these students. Twigg wants to provide new courses and qualifications so that all students can study English and Maths to 18. He said that the UK is one of the only countries in the developed world that doesn’t require pupils to study Maths and English until they leave school and feels that raising the education participation age will provide the country with an opportunity to fix this.

Twigg concluded by remarking that young people need to be inspired and confident about the world of work from an early age.

Stephen Twigg’s full speech can be read online at:

By PLMR Research and Monitoring Executive, Catrin Owen.

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