I HAVE been in the House of Lords for 23 years and I can barely remember any debate on technical and vocational education. It is important, because the skills gap is large and growing.
It is so large that the Government have stopped publishing it — and they have abolished the body that published it. It is very difficult to find out what the skills gap is so, as the chairman of Edge, I set up a group of 20 people to assess the skills gap in various industries
The gap in engineering is 203,000; there was no A-Level in engineering this year. In digital technology it is 600,000; there were just 10,000 A-Levels in computing, compared to 120,000 in maths. There should be as many computing A-Levels as maths ones. In hospitality, there are 100,000 vacancies; there were only five A-Levels in travel and tourism.
The reason for this is that the Gove curriculum, imposed 10 years ago, is wrecking the British education system and does not respond to the needs of the British economy. EBacc is a total and utter disaster.
Michael Gove’s successors never tried to challenge it; they could not say “boo” to a goose. I do not understand why the Labour and Liberal parties do not put this in their manifestos.
Put some lead in your pencil and say you will abolish EBacc, for heaven’s sake, because it will absolutely destroy technical education below 16. If you do that, you will not get apprentices at 16. Who is going to employ apprentices who have only done academic subjects? No one.
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When it comes to apprentices, the Government will run out of money at Christmas. All the levy has been spent and apprenticeships are falling, so they are going to have to make some difficult decisions. Perhaps I may recommend one or two.
They should stop offering apprenticeships to men and women who are 40, 50 and 60. Sixty-year-olds apply for and get apprenticeships. Apprentice grandmas and grandpas — what are they learning, how to die gracefully?
For heaven’s sake, do something about that. Concentrate the apprenticeship movement on those aged 14 to 24. Bring back young apprentices at 14. All the great geniuses of the Industrial Revolution started as young apprentices at 14.
We should bring back young apprenticeships and also abolish EBacc. I am glad to say that the colleges I have been working on now for 10 years — the university technical colleges – number 48, with 14,500 students. What we are most proud about with these colleges is that they are quite different. They work from 9am to 5pm, the working day. I say to the youngsters when they join: “This is the beginning of your working life.”
For two days a week, from 14 to 16, they are making things with their hands, and they do academic subjects for the rest. The thing we are most proud about is that they have the best destinations of school leavers of any school in the country. In July this year, 42 per cent of our leavers went to university, but 85 per cent of them did STEM subjects — double the national average — and 31 per cent became apprentices. The average for a normal school is six per cent.
Why do Ministers not explain to people how much more apprentices can earn at 18? If you are accepted as a higher apprentice at Rolls-Royce, BMW or Network Rail, and all the qualifications you have are one A-level and one BTEC, you can earn up to £20,000. If you want to go to the Navy, it will pay £32,500 — much more than a graduate will get after three or four years as an undergraduate. We must sell this positively if we are to get more people wanting to be apprentices.
The second thing is that the present Secretary of State (Gavin Williamson) is the first Secretary of State who likes technical education. He has made it his main responsibility, which he has done because he came from a manufacturing background and worked with businesspeople in factories. He said: “We should never underestimate the importance and the power that technical, vocational qualifications have in terms of driving our economic performance.”
He is the first Secretary of State for 10 years who has said anything nice about UTCs. Michael Gove was totally opposed to them. Finally the Department for Education realises that we have to do something quite dramatic in order to catch up with the rest of Europe and the rest of the world in technical education.
Lord Baker of Dorking is a Tory peer and former Education Secretary. He spoke in a House of Lords debate on vocational education – this is an edited version.