It’s time to end the snobbery surrounding vocational courses, urges Education Secretary

Education Secretary Damian Hinds has attacked the privilege given to academic qualifications and says vocational courses need to be more valued in order to solve Britain's productivity problem.

The Education Secretary said vocational courses suffer the O.P.C. problem - the perception they're for 'Other People's Children' - image courtesy of BAE Systems.
The Education Secretary said vocational courses suffer the ‘OPC.’ problem – the perception they are for ‘Other People’s Children’ – image courtesy of BAE Systems.

In a speech delivered today (7 Dec), Damian Hinds said Britain must stop treating vocational courses as inferior to academic courses.

If Britain’s productivity levels are to drastically improve he said, this can only be done by treating vocational courses on a parity of esteem basis with academic courses.

He said the UK suffers from an ‘OPC’ problem: “For so many opinion formers, commentators and, yes, politicians: vocational courses are for ‘other people’s children’.”

He believes the introduction of T-levels could help to counter the negative perception surrounding vocational courses. He also said the system fails to match skills with the labour market need.

Hinds also announced plans to create a system of employer-led national standards for higher technical education. These plans would help deal with the “great unsolved issue in our economy of the last fifty plus years: productivity.”

The Association of Colleges chief executive David Hughes welcomed the Education Secretary’s comments, noting: “To address skills gaps, to boost industry, and to build our economy, the government needs to stop ignoring the people who do not take the traditional university degree route.

“The Secretary of State is correct; educational snobbery exists throughout all strands of society – especially amongst decision-makers and opinion formers – and it has led to educational ignorance around non-academic routes to work.”

T-Levels

The first T-Level courses will start in 2020. Considered an alternative to A-Levels, they are a 2-year course designed with employers and include an industry placement. They combine technical knowledge and practical skills specific to the occupation of the student’s choosing. Maths, English and Digital skills will form a core part of the courses.

The engineering and manufacturing industries are just two of the sectors where students can gain on-the-job training and skills. Fujitsu, GlaxoSmithKline and IBM have all worked with the government to design the content of the T-Level courses.

The Education Secretary also announced that Skills Advisory Panels – local partnerships between public and private sector employers, local authorities and colleges and universities –will receive £75,000 each to understand the skills needs of the local economy.

Last month, the government announced that teachers and staff across the country will be given £8 million to help them prepare for the roll-out of the T Levels. The first T Levels courses will start in 2020 and be education & childcare, construction, and digital courses. Engineering and manufacturing T-Level courses will be rolled out the following year along with 22 other courses.

John Cope, the CBI’s Head of Education and Skills said Damian Hinds was: “absolutely right to put improving technical education firmly in the top of his agenda, given the gap in GB competitiveness with the rest of the world. The gap with France, Germany, & the US must be closed.”

Britain’s productivity gap is one of the worst in the developed world. Germany, France, and the US all produce more than 25% more per hour than the UK. In 2016, UK productivity was the lowest in the G7. That year, the average British worker produced 16.3% less per hour than the rest of the G7 countries. UK productivity is still below the levels it was before 2008 financial crash.

Concluding his speech, Damian Hinds said he hoped that that the proposals he set out will lead to the following three objectives being achieved: “A clear quality technical path to a skilled job. More young people gaining higher skills. A more productive economy.”


Reporting by Harry Wise