The debate on education policy in Britain has for too long obsessed about academic qualifications and has failed to give sufficient attention to quality technical education, according to Alex Cunningham.
Speaking at the launch of the Association of Colleges’ summer publication, the Member of Parliament for Stockton North pointed to a system of technical education that is widely seen as a fall-back option among young people with only seven per cent of pupils being able to name apprenticeships as a post-GCSE qualification.
Colleges up and down the country continue to do excellent work despite the financial hurdles that have been put in their path, educating and training 834,000 young people aged 16-18 while accommodating roughly 70,000 more undertaking apprenticeships through their local college.
However, the Labour MP highlighted the need to do more to place vocational qualifications on an equal footing with their academic equivalents if the greater economic productivity that our country needs is to be secured. This will require a workforce with higher level skills and knowledge to be trained, with colleges being crucial in opening up opportunities to this access high-quality courses and teaching.
“Our colleges have long provided high-quality technical and professional education and training for young people, adults and employers. And this is on top of the academic education that facilitates progress to university or higher level vocational education.
“Worryingly, less than half of colleges report that schools in their area are providing independent careers advice and guidance. Information about alternative pathways into vocational or academic education or training therefore remains elusive for many young people, with many large employers also guilty of neglecting their own responsibilities in providing the technical education and training they rely on.
“If we are to secure the greater economic productivity our country needs, training a workforce with higher level skills and knowledge is crucial. But we need to do more to level the playing field between vocational and academic qualifications while opening up opportunities to access high-quality courses and teaching.
“This is particularly true with the return to focusing on more jobs in hi-tech manufacturing and engineering, alongside new growth in technologies such as energy and computing. And it is vital to ensure that the education and training young people receive is reformed to reflect this new focus, with employers collaborating with colleges to have a say in the shape that these courses take.”