Decline in technical studies failing non-academic students

Published on Monday, 21 January 2013 12:15
Posted by Vicki Mitchem

Up to one in three students are dropping out of their A level studies, wasting their time and public money.

A new report, Technical Matters, by Policy Exchange welcomes the government's decision to introduce the Ebacc and the DfE's focus to drive up academic standards in every school in the country. However, it warns that many students are suffering from the lack of an alternative to traditional academic studies and that a distinct technical and vocational route through the education system may help reduce dropout and disengagement.  A recent review into vocational education by Prof Alison Wolf showed that many students post-16 find themselves 'churning' for several years between low-grade work and poor quality educational offerings unlikely to help them find a job.

The report examines the high quality of vocational education on offer in other countries, notably Germany and the Netherlands where youth unemployment rates are much lower than in the UK. Evidence from abroad suggests that greater employer involvement in education at the local level plays a key role in assuring quality and aligning labour market needs with the studies offered by education providers. Apprenticeships also play a vital role but they need to last for three years and the majority of learning time must be spent in work-based training.

The public also thinks there is too much emphasis on academic studies in the education system. A YouGov poll of 1624 people published alongside the report found that nearly half the public (47%) thought there was too much focus on academic subjects at school and not enough practical, job-related training. Only 21% of people thought that the balance was about right.

The report calls for greater competition among academic and technical education providers. It also says that employers should work more closely with technical and vocational education providers to ensure the curriculum is relevant to future jobs and incorporates high quality instruction to industrial-level standards.

Recommendations include:

- A requirement on all vocational and technical providers to involve employers formally in the development and delivery of the curriculum and in quality assurance
- New funding arrangements that dissuade Sixth Forms from retaining students who would benefit more from a specific technical or vocational education
- Stronger Ofsted requirements around the inspection of technical and vocational provision as well as employability skills and the quality of careers advice and guidance in schools
- A new TechBacc or VocBacc qualification to recognise excellence in high quality technical and vocational studies taken alongside essential core subjects

The report also calls for the establishment of a dedicated technical and vocational commissioning body that sits within the DfE. This would facilitate meetings with technical and vocational providers, LEPs and skills council bodies at a local and regional level to help colleges plan appropriate provision for students.

Dr Owen Corrigan, author of the report, said "An alternative technical route through the education system could benefit the many students whose needs are not currently being met, as well as employers who complain about skills shortages especially in science and technology areas.

"Everyone should, of course, have the opportunity to study at university regardless of their background. However, vocational and technical studies should not be seen as inferior or second best. That means ensuring that the technical and vocational options on offer are of the highest quality, allowing us to produce the next generation of technicians, to better prepare students for the world of work, and to better meet the needs of both students and business."

Lynne Sedgmore, Executive Director of the 157 Group said, "We in Further Education Colleges have long recognised the value of high quality technical and vocational education and it is good to see the subject being investigated so thoroughly in this report. Its recommendations are challenging and far-reaching and will doubtless add to the already lively debate about the future of the sector."

Source: ©Policy Exchange


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