Vocational qualifications should be given the “prestige” they need to rescue the region from its chronic skills shortage, education think tank leaders have warned.
At a Schools North East summit in Newcastle, Natasha Porter, deputy head of education at Policy Exchange, said: “Vocational doesn’t have to be un-academic.
“Tristram Hunt, the shadow education secretary, has spoken about vocational qualifications for the ‘forgotten 50%’ who don’t go on to higher education.
“I think those comments, especially from a Labour politician, are damaging.
“Studying for a vocational qualification should be more prestigious. At the moment it is considered a second class fallback.
“The best way to teach vocational students, particularly those who had found Maths and English challenging at school, is to contextualise Maths and English to the students’ chosen vocation as it gives the learning purpose.
“I’ll be interested to see the next manifesto for all political parties on this subject.
“We’re facing a skills crisis and it’s not just young people who need convincing that a more vocational route is a good idea.
“Generations of parents who have been told that university is the pinnacle need to look at changing their views.
“They should be encouraging their children to look at a qualification in construction, engineering, or manufacturing because it’s prestigious, they’re children will likely have a job for life and a very good wage.
“Most of all, with the right skills in place, these young people will always be in demand.”
James Kempton, director of education and social policy at CentreForum, said: “There’s a lot to be said for sweeping away qualifications that aren’t any good and creating qualifications that employers believe in and are going to be relevant for a long while.
“A-levels are valued, some more than others, because they qualify successful students for the course of their choice at the university of their choice.
“Vocational qualifications in countries like Germany and Switzerland are highly respected because they are clearly related to sought-after employment.
“Some of the most prestigious qualifications in this country are vocational, like medical and law degrees, because of the doors they open, but most vocational qualifications for 14 to 19 year-olds have no such clear purpose.
“While there is a well-defined ladder from GCSEs to A-levels to higher education, the steps from school to employment are more shaky.”