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Vocational Education (Wolf Review)

Volume 524: debated on Thursday 3 March 2011

High-quality vocational education is crucial to enabling social mobility, generating growth and making opportunity more equal for all young people.

Sadly, the system we have inherited means that too many existing vocational qualifications are of poor quality or are offered inappropriately to young people. Too many young people are studying courses that do not enable them to progress.

It is essential, therefore, that we ensure the vocational routes offered to young people are high quality and are recognised by employers and further and higher education.

Professor Wolf’s recommendations will help us to do just that. They have set a clear direction of travel that will lead to a real and sustained improvement in the vocational education on offer to young people in this country.

She highlights how the system is failing hundreds of thousands of young people and says:

350,000 students aged 16 to 19 are on programmes which score well in league tables but do not lead to higher education or stable paid employment;

high-quality apprenticeships are too rare and a decreasing proportion are being offered to teenagers;

examples of good quality, innovation and success in vocational education today are achieved in spite of the current funding and regulatory system and not because of it.

Professor Wolf’s recommendations shift 14 to19 vocational education away from the

“expensive, centralised and over-detailed approach that has been the hallmark of the last two decades”.

Instead she says England should move towards the systems favoured by the best providers of vocational education—Denmark, France and Germany, which delegate a large amount of decision-making and design to a local level.

Professor Wolf says society has

“no business placing 14-year-olds in tracks which they cannot leave”,

and says options for all young people must be kept open. She suggests that 14 to16-year-olds should spend at least 80% of their learning time on a broad academic “core”. This is in line with the best models of vocational education in Europe, which delay specialisation until post-16.

We will immediately accept four recommendations:

to allow further education lecturers to teach in school classrooms on the same basis as qualified teachers;

to clarify the rules on allowing industry professionals to teach in schools;

to allow any vocational qualification offered by a regulated awarding body to be taken by 14 to 19-year-olds;

slash the red tape to temporarily allow high-quality, established vocational qualifications, which are valued by employers, to be offered in schools and colleges from September.

We will now consider how best to implement Professor Wolf’s remaining recommendations. These include:

anyone who fails to achieve a good pass in GCSE English or maths must continue to study those subjects post-16. Currently less than half of all students fail to get an A* to C pass at GCSE;

the Government should increase continuing professional development (CPD) for mathematics teachers, especially post-16;

the removal of the perverse incentives, created by both the funding system and performance tables, to enter students for numerous low-quality qualifications. Higher quality courses should have higher scores in performance tables than “dead-end” ones, and funding should be per pupil not per qualification;

employers should be subsidised if they offer 16 to 18-year-old apprentices high-quality, off-the-job training, and an education with broad transferable elements;

scrapping the duty on colleges and schools to provide every 14 to 16-year-old with work-related learning. Longer internships for older students should be prioritised instead;

employers should be more involved in local colleges to ensure vocational qualifications valued by business are offered to students and are taught to industry standards;

promote the right of under 16s to be enrolled in colleges so they can benefit from high-quality vocational training available there, in creative arts, commerce or catering.

We will publish a full Government response to Professor Wolf’s report shortly.

Copies of the Wolf review of vocational education will be placed in the House Library.