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Technical and Vocational studies need to be given same treatment as GCSEs and A-Levels

 

Niamh Corcoran's latest column for The Journal

Attention over the last few weeks has rightly been focused on students receiving their end-of-year results from schools and colleges.

With young people particularly from colleges and state sixth forms, initially receiving grades far below what they would most likely have achieved, the Government’s U-turn in allocating students their Centre Assessed Grades was a big a relief.

However, in the clamour to cover A level results, the half a million missing BTEC results have hardly made the headlines, exposing the long-standing omission of technical and vocational education from the conversation about education pathways.Whilst over 50% of students follow a technical and vocational route post-16, it is fair to say that these forms of education can be an after-thought, with both attention and funding often geared towards the path from GCSEs to A Levels to University. In the UK, funding for 16-19 vocational and technical education is 23% lower per pupil than for academic education. In fact, the UK trails behind other European countries in this regard with significantly lower levels of funding and vocational student finance than Austria, Germany, Norway and the Netherlands.

The Government has taken important steps towards its goal of levelling up the technical and vocational education system with the introduction of T Levels, grants to encourage apprenticeship starts and the creation of Institutes of Technology. However, with the landscape of the UK so fundamentally altered by the Coronavirus crisis, and youth unemployment set to surge, we need stronger action. Importantly,further education colleges, which often deliver technical and vocational education, urgently need financial support to mitigate income losses caused by the pandemic. Ensuring the system is well funded and can accommodate an increased number of students in the coming academic year and beyond is vital.

Not only does the vocational and technical education system need more funding, it needs to be given the esteem academic routes hold. We must be clear that levelling up this system will lay the groundwork for our region’s recovery from Coronavirus. The Chancellor Rishi Sunak has promised a green recovery in which Britain ‘builds back better’, with energy efficiency programmes and new infrastructure spending.We cannot meet these ambitions without a workforce equipped with the right skills and knowledge.

We must continue to push for technical and vocational education to receive the attention and funding it deserves. In doing so, we will ensure that all young people in our region are able to reach their potential and play the fullest role possible in the economy.