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Vocational Education

Volume 552: debated on Monday 29 October 2012

As Minister for Skills, it is my mission to raise the status and quality of vocational education. Following the Wolf review, we have reformed school performance tables to encourage the take-up of high-value vocational qualifications before the age of 16. From this September, all those in apprenticeships were required to study English and maths, but there is more to do.

That is utter waffle. Is not the truth that the Secretary of State has downgraded the engineering diploma, excluded practical subjects from the English baccalaureate and has no plans to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg) in offering a technical baccalaureate? What do the Government have against vocational education? Is it spreading the privilege a little bit too far?

I do not think that requiring all those in apprenticeships to study English and maths if they do not have level 2 is “waffle”; I think it is extremely important for improving the rigour and quality of vocational education. Vocational education is vital to this country’s future, and that is why I will put all my effort into championing it.

Although more girls start apprenticeships than boys, they are very under-represented in some areas. Only 5% of engineering apprenticeships and 13% of IT apprenticeships were taken up by girls. Will my hon. Friend take action to encourage more girls to consider apprenticeships in IT and engineering?

Yes. I am delighted to say that I have already taken some action, but there is more to do. The first round of the employer ownership pilots included funding for a bid by engineering companies across the country specifically to support engineering apprenticeships and engineering training. I entirely accept the size of the challenge in engineering and ICT. If we say that engineering is not for half of our population, we are never going to have enough high-quality engineers. [Interruption.]

The hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman) has been chuntering from a sedentary position, to no obvious benefit or purpose—[Interruption.] Order. He was making his point sitting down. Would he like to make it standing up?

20. Indeed. Would the Minister accept that the withdrawal of funding for the Women into Science and Engineering campaign is not a good idea if we are to be serious about getting more women into engineering and science? (124995)

No, I do not recognise that point at all. The employer ownership pilots are doing precisely the opposite in the first round. We are looking for more innovative, thoughtful and new ways of ensuring that funding gets to the right places, including to women, where their representation in a particular sector is low.

A number of organisations have expressed concern that the increased focus on the EBacc will lead to fewer students studying the practical or vocational subjects that are so important for encouraging the next generation of engineers. What can my hon. Friend say to those organisations to allay their fears?

In the first instance, ensuring that high quality science is taught before the age of 16 is vital to the future of engineering at a later age. More importantly, ensuring that English and maths are there is crucial for vocational and occupational skills for everybody. There is much more to do in that area, but the EBacc is a step forward. It is part of the future provision right across the academic and vocational areas.