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Vocational Education

Volume 554: debated on Monday 3 December 2012

World-class vocational education is vital for a world-class economy, so we are bringing rigour to vocational education by recognising the best qualifications, strengthening apprenticeships and introducing a Tech Bac to reward and celebrate stretching occupational education.

EngineeringUK has today published a report showing that this country needs to double the number of engineering recruits and triple the number of engineering apprenticeships. It calls for face-to-face careers advice in schools and additional assistance to help schools appreciate 21st century engineering. The Government have had to U-turn over their engineering diploma, so will the Minister U-turn again and implement EngineeringUK’s recommendations in full?

I met EngineeringUK last week at the launch of its report, so I am well versed on its recommendations and very supportive of the need to increase the number of engineers in our country, something that has been sadly lacking for far too long. As the hon. Gentleman knows, we are introducing, along with the Royal Academy, new qualifications that fit the accountability system. We will do what it takes to ensure that this country has enough engineers.

What assessment has the Minister made of the Richard report, which recommends that apprenticeships should last at least a year?

I warmly welcome the Richard report, which stresses the need for rigour in apprenticeships and for apprenticeships to be more employer focused. I am studying it in great detail. The hon. Gentleman says that apprenticeships need to be for a minimum of a year, and in almost all cases that is already happening, thanks to changes introduced by my predecessor, but we want to look at all the recommendations and see which we can implement.

I welcome some of the things the Minister said to the hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr Wright) about engineering, but is he not concerned that Sir James Dyson—Dyson engineering is based in my constituency—said last week that he needs 200 new designers and engineers in Malmesbury alone but cannot find them and that across the nation we are desperately short of them. What will we do to improve science, engineering and design in our schools and universities?

Not only is the number of engineering apprenticeships up, but a higher proportion of young people are now starting STEM—science, technology, engineering and maths—degrees at university. That is going up, rather than down, as it was before. This is an area of huge concern to me and I am working extremely hard to try to put it right.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the university technical colleges, one of which will open in Harlow in 2014, will transform vocational education and provide young people with a conveyor belt to pre-apprenticeships?

Yes, I do. I was almost expecting an invitation to visit the UTC in Harlow, which I would love to see. UTCs across the country are about trying to fill the gap that has been left for far too long, and this Government are dealing with it.

The Minister confirmed in The Times on Saturday the report that the Government

“is stealing the idea for a Technical Baccalaureate proposed by Ed Miliband”.

Does he agree that, in addition to high-quality apprenticeships, English and maths until age 18 and quality technical education before 16 will be crucial to the success of such a baccalaureate?

I am absolutely delighted by the positive tone coming from the Opposition Front Bench. The Tech Bac, as suggested by Lord Adonis, a man for whom the Government have huge respect, is one of the things we will do to ensure higher quality occupational and vocational qualifications and more respect for them. I look forward to consulting widely and will set out more details in due course.

But does the Minister agree that there is a real risk that this is out of kilter with the pre-16 reforms that the Government are proposing? Last week’s excellent report on schools by the CBI stated that the

“mistakes of the past… may be repeated in the”

English baccalaureate. It is urging a pause. Both head teachers and business leaders are now united against the Government’s EBacc reforms, so will they think again?

The CBI will be very surprised to be quoted in that fashion. The crucial point is that a common core of strong English and maths is vital for underpinning technical, occupational, vocational and academic qualifications. The single most important pair of qualifications that anybody can get for their employability is GCSE-level English and maths, and so making sure that there is a strong common core at the age of 16 is a vital part of stronger occupational and vocational education after that.

I am delighted that on 14 December I will officially open the new university presence in Crawley. Will the Minister join me in congratulating Central Sussex college on introducing STEM vocational courses, working with some of the first-class companies in my constituency, as well as extending apprenticeships?

Yes. I have not been able to visit the college that my hon. Friend talks about, but from what I have seen of it, it is exactly the sort of thing that we need to do in extending upwards the quality chain in vocational education and engaging with employers—businesses and public sector employers—to make sure that we provide the skills that they need in future.