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Labour call for more advanced, rigorous vocational courses and a new focus on technical learning and skills 

Stark warning that some students with low qualifications worse off than those with none; new Tech Bacc at 18 to give students clear target to aim for.

Karen Buck MP, Labour’s Shadow Minister for Young People, in a speech to the Association of Colleges Annual Conference, will make the case for more rigorous vocational courses taught in institutions with status and expertise to rival the reputations of top universities. She will warn that low qualifications can make students worse off. 

Karen Buck will say: 

“The Government has nothing to say about advanced vocational learning - which could be a fantastic route for many 17 and 18 year olds. Advanced vocational learning requires more robust and rigorous courses, and more young people progressing toward them.

"I am interested in how we can further strengthen the prestige and reputation of vocational institutions, so that elite centres are able to rival the reputation of the very best in our university sector. I want to see more motivational destinations for vocational learners that act as centres for teaching excellence and drive up standards across the sector. 

"Under Labour’s plans for a Technical Baccalaureate, courses will be accredited by employers to show they are sufficiently rigorous and all pupils will study English and Maths until age 18.” 

Karen Buck will warn of a 'revolving door of low qualifications' that makes some students worse off than before the course. She will say: 

"Whether or not the precise figure quoted by Alison Wolf - that 350,000 young people gain little or no value from the education system - is one everyone agrees on, we can agree that churning in and out of Level 1 and 2 qualifications creates a risk for the student of ending up not in employment, education or training of finding that the labour market offers little or no return for such low level qualifications. 

“In fact, shockingly – it can give a negative return. Young males with Level 2 NVQs actually earn less than their contemporaries with fewer qualifications. That is staggering if you think about it for a moment – their courses have made them worse off. 

“There are complicated factors behind this revolving door of low qualifications. Prior attainment and engagement in the early years plays its part, as do wider social and economic issues. 

“It certainly hasn’t helped that the Government has removed the EMA, abolished face to face and independent careers advice, and removed so much of the scope of local authorities to play a local leadership role. 

"But more importantly, we must give ambitious young people something to aim for. 

"So a Tech Bacc at 18 will provide a high level set of qualifications to motivate young people to progress well beyond Level 2. Young people need a target to aim for in order to drive them forward. 

How will the Tech Bacc be different from previous efforts?

"First, we will insist that all young people study English and Maths to 18, regardless of their previous attainment, included as a strict condition for the award of a Tech Bacc as well as the A-level route. This is supported by the CBI - indeed, we are one of the few developed countries that don’t do it already. 

"Second, we will ensure that anyone studying for a Tech Bacc successfully completes a programme of rigorous, relevant work experience. 

"Third, and I am sure you will be relieved to hear – politicians will not be the ones designing and accrediting the Tech Bacc courses themselves. Existing and new courses will be accredited by employers to ensure they offer progression, are credible in the workplace and are sufficiently rigorous. I know many of you already work closely with businesses to provide training opportunities and apprenticeships, and I want to ensure that there are no barriers to employers working more closely with colleges and schools. 

"Fourth, we will work with schools and universities to improve and expand vocational education. By putting English and Maths at the heart of vocational education, we want to ensure no doors are closed to teenagers. A young person who starts or completes a Tech Bacc can switch to a more classical education route if they wish and vice versa. No child should have their options closed down at 14, 16 or 18 and all will benefit from a more rounded education.” 


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