Britain must drop ‘snobby’ attitude to technical education, says Minister

Damian Hinds

Britain must drop its ‘snobby’ attitude to technical and vocational education or risk being left behind after Brexit, Education Secretary Damian Hinds has warned business leaders today.

He set out his plans to get more people into skilled jobs that command higher wages.

These include:

  • A new generation of Higher Technical Qualifications – an alternative to a university degree to help more people get on in their careers and so employers can access the skills they need. These qualifications at “Level 4 and 5” – like Diplomas of Higher Education and Foundation Degrees sit in between A Levels and a degree in subjects like engineering and digital. The kind of training that helps someone step up from being a healthcare support worker to a nursing associate or a bricklayer to a construction site supervisor.
  • Reforming the pupil destination measure – the information published in school and college performance tables about what higher study or training pupils go on to do after they leave – to create one measure that shows how many young people are doing higher training of any type. The new destination measure will show separately how many young people go on to study degrees, higher technical apprenticeships or Higher Technical Qualifications like a Higher National Diploma.
  • Matching skills to jobs –new guidance and a package of support for Skills Advisory Panels – local partnerships between public and private sector employers, local authorities, colleges and universities – to assess what skills are needed in their local area.

Mr Hinds argued that the default route and measure of success for young people should no longer just be an academic one, and unless Britain drops that mind-set it will never close the productivity gap with its European neighbours – an ambition that is more crucial as we leave the European Union. Underling the importance of closing that gap, he highlighted that Germany, France, and the US all produce over 25% more per hour than the UK, He also stated that if Britain matched these productivity levels it could boost taxes available for public services by tens of billions more a year.

The Education Secretary also set out his 10 -ear ambition to upgrade the nations’ skills so more young people have the same high quality training opportunities with clear pathways to skilled jobs as those in top performing technical education countries like Germany. He pointed out that just 65% of the working population in the UK have completed a qualification at A-level or equivalent. In Germany this figure rises to almost 90%. New figurespublished by the Department for Education reveal that by getting as many 25 year olds qualified to Level 3 as in Germany, around 86,000 people could earn on average an extra £2,270 a year.

He said: “As a nation I’m afraid we’ve been technical education snobs. We’ve revered the academic but treated vocational as second class – when we do it well, law, engineering, medicine – then we don’t even call it vocational.

“Why has this has been tolerated for so long? I think the reason is the ‘OPC’ problem. For so many opinion formers, commentators and, yes, politicians: vocational courses are for ‘other people’s children’.

“Young people not on the A-level route have two years of government funded education when they turn 16…precious time, precious investment… And all too often it’s time and money used to train them to a low level in a skill the economy doesn’t need.”

Today, Germany, France, the US – all produce over 25% more per hour than the UK. And, actually, this productivity gap with Germany and France first opened up in the late 1960s, further back still with the US. This gap matters. In terms of our public services – matching German productivity would allow government to spend tens of billions of pounds a year more.

The government has already kick-started a technical education revolution, working with employers to introduce new, gold standard T Levels from 2020 – the technical equivalent to A Levels – and to create more high quality apprenticeship opportunities. These will help put Britain’s technical education system on a par with the best in the world, like Germany, Netherlands and Switzerland.