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Vocational Education

Volume 575: debated on Monday 10 February 2014

We are making the vocational education system more rigorous and more responsive to employers’ needs, removing thousands of qualifications that are not valued by employers and driving up the quality of apprenticeships.

I welcome the introduction of tech levels and the technical baccalaureate, which will provide a gold standard in vocational qualifications, but what is my hon. Friend doing to promote such courses, and to lift the overall standing of vocational qualifications and practical careers in, for instance, engineering and construction?

We have a huge programme of work for that purpose. In my hon. Friend’s own constituency, for example, the number of apprenticeships has risen by 50% since 2010. By promoting tech levels and the technical baccalaureate, we are driving up standards in vocational qualifications, and supporting progression in order to show the value of vocational and technical education and hence increase support for it.

May I take up the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Nuneaton (Mr Jones) about parity of esteem, which has always been the issue when it comes to vocational qualifications? Does the Minister think it is about time that employers associations, industrial associations, and perhaps even local chambers became involved in selling those qualifications?

Absolutely. Tech levels need to be signed off by employers in order to be recognised by the Department. In the past, there were too many so-called vocational qualifications that did not help people to get on in an occupation. We are changing that by insisting that employers publish support for a qualification before it is recognised by us, so that when people embark on a vocational course they know that they will get something valuable out of it.

Lowestoft college is doing excellent work in providing young people with the necessary vocational skills for the many jobs that will be created in the energy sector, but the cut in funding for 18-year-olds will have a significant impact on that work. I should welcome an update from the Minister on what mitigating measures are being introduced.

I strongly support Lowestoft college, and I particularly welcome the fact that the number of apprenticeships in my hon. Friend’s constituency has almost doubled since 2010. As he knows, we are looking into the allocations to individual colleges, and also looking into measures to mitigate the effects of the change we have had to make.

During our last session of Education questions, I asked the Minister about a survey conducted by The Times Educational Supplement, which found that three quarters of young people had not received information about apprenticeships as part of their careers guidance. Does he still stand by the words of the Secretary of State, who said at a meeting of the Select Committee in December that he had no plans to review careers guidance?

If I recall correctly, my right hon. Friend—my boss—said that we would shortly be publishing further statutory guidance, and we will.

My Big Career is a charity that provides face-to-face careers advice in Hackney schools, and is already making great strides in improving the present position. It has also uncovered the fact that, as was pointed out by my hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Gwynne), young people are not always pushed enough towards the right vocational training and qualifications. Will the Minister visit Hackney to observe the work that My Big Career is doing in schools, and see for himself the benefit of that face-to-face careers advice?

Absolutely: I should love to visit Hackney with the hon. Lady. What is happening there is part of a wider drive to ensure that it is real employers who mentor and support young people and give them inspiration. It is part of a culture change that is starting to come about, and I look forward to working with the hon. Lady in that connection.

Vocational education ought to be a genuinely dual system. May I invite the Minister never, ever to utter the sentence “It is for those who cannot attend university”? May I also urge him to realise that it is essential to tie in work experience with vocational training?

I think that our minds are as one on this. I only wish that the hon. Lady had managed to convey the same message to her party’s Front Benchers when they were last in government. We strongly believe that it should become the norm in this country for young people to be able to enter either a university or an apprenticeship, that the choice should be theirs, and that our job is to provide excellent opportunities in both.

Last week the Edge Foundation published the results of a survey which showed that just 27% of parents thought that vocational education was a worthwhile route for their children to take. In the light of that, does the Minister agree with me, and with my hon. Friend the Member for Nuneaton (Mr Jones), that more needs to be done to promote understanding of the additional rigour that has been brought to vocational qualifications in general, and to apprenticeships in particular, under the present Government?

I think it is not enough simply to exhort that technical and vocational education is important. We have to make sure we show that it is valued, and that it truly is valued by employers in order to change this perceptions gap, but I would also note that on the same day that that report was published evidence was published showing that applications to apprenticeships had gone up sharply again. This shows there is movement in this area—there is a culture change in this country—and support for technical and vocational education is on the rise.