The tide of education policy in England appears to be turning.
At least that was what we discovered last month from the two politicians vying for the nation’s ultimate education hot-seat after next year’s general election.
For as that date draws ever nearer, there is one area at least that both the Conservatives and Labour seem to agree on - the need for more and better vocational qualifications and training.
Although the parties’ annual conferences threw up few surprises, it was pleasing that each confirmed a commitment to vocational instruction, revealing as they did so an understanding that the academic path is not for everyone.
First up was Labour’s shadow education secretary Tristram Hunt, who told delegates that developing a vocational system to rival Germany’s was one of his three key policy ‘planks’.
To do this, he said a Labour government would ensure colleges focused on training for local jobs and provided “respected qualifications”, adding that the “old barriers” between academic and technical are “crumbling”.
And current Education Secretary Nicky Morgan told Tory attendees it was time employers no longer had to struggle to fill highly skilled positions, insisting that every child should have access to the skills and experiences to help them get on in life.
She said more students should have access to high-quality vocational courses because “university isn’t for everyone”, and young people who choose a different path should not be told it was “second best”.
There is stark recognition within education and industry that more needs to be done to encourage the young into vocational training, not just because the academic route is not suitable for all, but because there are real jobs out there in many sectors.
For example, employers in manufacturing, including engineering, have long warned they are being impeded by a significant skills gap, their ability to compete hindered by a shortfall in the pool of skilled recruits.
But there is a skill to matching the needs of employers with youthful ambition and curriculums and learning programmes need to be responsive to the demands of both.
Indeed, an aspect highly important to Learning Curve Group becoming England’s largest education subcontractor partner in just 10 years is our dedication to providing training that matches employer needs. Our Skill Centres offer courses in a number of in-demand vocational areas, including construction, and many thousands of employees embark on our work-based apprenticeships or NVQ courses to gain greater career advancement.
This is flexible and highly relevant training that is creating real opportunity where real opportunity exists.
For, as Ms Morgan added, it “simply isn’t fair to let a young person think they are studying hard to get a job if it is of no value or help after all.”
Brenda Mcleish is the Group Managing Director of Learning Curve Group. For more information visit www.learningcurvegroup.co.uk