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Vocational Qualifications

Volume 541: debated on Monday 27 February 2012

2. What assessment he has made of the effects of the Government’s reclassification of vocational qualifications. (96383)

We expect that all schools will now offer courses that benefit students, rather than some offering courses that are designed to inflate the school’s league-table rankings.

In North Tyneside, Churchill community college has been deemed by the Government to be one of the top 100 schools in terms of performance, and students taking vocational courses there find that they are provided with the exact skills that local employers want. Will the Secretary of State listen to education and industry professionals and take the opportunity of the curriculum review to strengthen the role of the vocational pathway in order to ensure that all young people are equipped for the demands of our economy?

I congratulate the hon. Lady on having such a strong school—indeed, so many strong schools—in her constituency. It is vital that we ensure that children have the maximum number of opportunities to progress at the age of 16, either on to further study in colleges and universities or into the vocational pathways that may suit them. Professor Alison Wolf’s report provides a strong foundation on which to build for all students of all abilities and aptitudes.

The Government and the Department have acted to allay concerns on the equivalency of some qualifications for the purposes of performance statistics, but will the Secretary of State confirm that the coalition Government are committed to raising the status of vocational education and to recognising the achievements of schools, colleges, teachers and young people?

Absolutely. I am uniquely fortunate in that I have in the Minister for Further Education, Skills and Lifelong Learning a colleague who is passionate about that and who is on record in the latest issue of The House Magazine as having said that he has used the word “apprenticeship” in debates in this House more often than any other Member here. The reason he has done so and the reason we are so committed to increasing the number of apprenticeships—[Interruption.] He is a great Minister and he is part of a coalition Government who have presided over the fastest growth in quality apprenticeships under any Government in history.

Does the Secretary of State agree that whether in vocational study, university courses or apprenticeships, the essential thing is that courses are relevant for future employment and, indeed, for future employers?

The hon. Gentleman makes a valid point. One of the problems that we have had in the past is that some awarding bodies have offered qualifications that were deemed to be technical or vocational but in fact were not. We need to ensure that those qualifications, which are robust and respected, are increasingly popular and are used in our schools and colleges.