Category Archives: vocational




BCC  joins others in calls for quality careers guidance and  education in schools

The British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) on 30 January published its Skills and Employment Manifesto, setting out ways to radically transform the systems that educate our young people, with recommendations for training our adult workforce.

The BCC Manifesto seeks to  address ‘skills mismatch’ described by many UK employers.

BCC President, Nora Senior: “Although we believe that successive governments have failed our young people by not properly equipping them for their future careers, it is time to break away from the blame game.”

In short, Employers consistently tell the BCC (and CBI/IOD) that there is a mismatch between what they are looking for in their staff, and the skills, experience and attitude offered by too many prospective candidates. The Prime Minister regularly refers to a global race, yet the BCC believes that in the 21st century, it is the countries with the most skilled workforces – both young and old – that will be the ultimate winners.


The Manifesto calls for:

Ensuring that ‘employability’ skills are at the heart of how schools are assessed and rated

Investing in quality careers education for all young people, including regular, quality contact with a variety of employers

Using Chambers to offer independent advice and support to SMEs to increase investment in apprenticeships and workplace training

Clear, universally understood qualifications for literacy, numeracy, computing and foreign languages

Qualifications to be consistent and clear, to enable employers to understand an individual’s competencies

Tax incentives for the development of foreign language and export skills

All employment policy to become the responsibility of the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS)

Universities to work with Chambers of Commerce to promote enterprise among a wider range of students, and to ensure university courses are relevant to future job opportunities

The government to give employers a choice on how they receive government funding for apprenticeships – either directly through the tax system or via their chosen training provider

Commenting, Nora Senior, President of the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC), said:

“Skills will decide who wins and who loses in a 21st century economy – yet employers across the UK constantly say they struggle to find prospective employees, particularly those leaving education, who have the right skills to succeed in the workplace.

“Although we believe that successive governments have failed our young people by not properly equipping them for their future careers, it is time to break away from the blame game. Various organisations and sectors continue to blame each other for a lack of ‘work readiness’ among young people, but it is time for everyone to accept some responsibility, and find ways to move forward.

“The world has changed at a rapid pace. If Britain doesn’t keep up, employers who are unable to access the skills they need or those unwilling to invest in training will lose business to other firms at home and abroad, putting us at a disadvantage. Simple measures, such as investing in quality careers education, making employability a key measure for schools, and supporting interaction between pupils and local employers, will deliver more jobs and growth in the long-term.  “Government, schools, colleges and employers must all work together in the coming months and years to ensure that the UK has a workforce that is ‘fit for purpose’. Failure to do so risks consigning generation after generation to a less prosperous future.”

On Careers Guidance the report says:

‘Careers education should start in Key Stage 2 and build to form a statutory element of secondary national curriculums. Every young person should gain work experience of different lengths in different sectors. Chambers of Commerce can facilitate these placements with local and national businesses.’

Publicly funded careers services should be fully extended to cover anyone over the age of 13, including face-to-face advice.

• National Insurance numbers should be used to track the average earnings of each school’s alumni as a proxy for success in the labour market.

• ‘Destination measures’ should be extended to include longer-term outcomes. Although there is value to understanding the destination of students after 12 months, this encourages some schools to find any destination rather than the right one for each individual. Destination measures should be extended to show five-year destinations’.

Another report also published this week from the think tank –IPPR (North)- says that  ‘today’s secondary school pupils are being let down by careers services that are not up to scratch’.   Furthermore it states that ‘Schools should be given more support to meet their statutory duty to provide independent careers advice and guidance’ and that ‘ the careers advice process should be more properly embedded in the curriculum. In particular, the role of careers in education should be clearer and wider.’

Neil Carberry, director for employment and skills for the CBI, added to the growing clamour over the inadequacies of schools careers guidance when he said “there must  …be a sea change in the quality of careers advice in schools”


Skills Manifesto British Chamber of Commerce -2014


Driving a generation: Improving the interaction between schools and businesses-  2014 -Bill Davies and Ed Cox of IPPR North.


A report last year for the Sutton Trust, by Boston Consulting, said “Because of the complexity of vocational education in England, students need expert and impartial advice, but very little is available to them. Surveys by Chrysalis for City and Guilds in 2011 and for Careers England in 2012 showed that 28% of vocational students received no advice at all and that two thirds are dependent on teachers and school careers advisers, in whom they have little confidence on this subject’.


Conference hears from UKTI and Higher Education Institutions


Emily Ashwell, the corporate financier who heads the education unit at UKTI(BIS) was a panellist this week at an Education Export conference run by Education Investor. The panel was discussing vocational education. HMG sees Saudi Arabia as a major education export opportunity and is selling UK expertise in vocational education and training, which is in demand in Saudi. Further Education colleges are being encouraged to step up to the plate. Other countries seen as priorities are Colombia, Mexico and Kazakhstan, for reasons that are not entirely clear.

The ten strong education unit sees the future in consortium bidding. The proposition is that governments abroad are seeking to transform their education systems. Opportunities will therefore be big in scale, complex and cross cutting.  To respond to this we need to offer a strategic, joined up, holistic approach, not a piecemeal and fragmented one .  This is about partnership and collaboration. So, the education unit can help gather educators, suppliers, construction companies, lawyers etc to offer integrated solutions. The implication here is that they will focus on the big ticket contracts. The smaller operators may have grounds for concern, although Ashwell denied this in a recent interview with Education Investor. In initial publicity launching the new export initiative earlier this year Pearson Education was referenced several times-and they are certainly big- and, when I last looked, not so obviously British.  But, that aside, UKTI deserve a chance and Ashwell certainly appears to be determined to help change the landscape and to ensure that we catch up with the more  co-ordinated  approaches  of  our major competitors including the US, Canada, and  Australia.

Meanwhile, Higher Education Institutions told the audience that the Home Offices’ visa policy is driving a coach and horses through our higher education exports. Foreign students are finding it too difficult and costly to apply to UK institutions and we are rapidly losing market share.  India has been particularly badly hit by this. Its now beginning to affect Chinese students. The Chief Executive of Sannam S4 ,Adrian Mutton , a recruiter specialising in India and China, said that the  old guard of the UK, Australia and the US are now  being challenged by Canada, Germany, New Zealand, Malaysia, Ireland and Singapore, which are all experiencing double-digit growth in the number of students choosing to study there. Interestingly too  in Europe universities are teaching many more courses in English which is also seen as a possible  longer term  threat to UK HEIs.

HEIs want students not to be included in the net immigration figures. This seems unlikely before the next election.  The Vice Chancellor of the University of East Anglia even called for the Home Secretary to step down.  The view is that BIS and DFE are supportive of HEIs but the Home Office isn’t.


Step change in the plight of interns


The government is to crack down on employers abusing national minimum wage laws following successful moves to reclaim nearly £200,000 in wages owed to unpaid interns.

The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) is planning to take more aggressive steps after HMRC’s success over the last tax year in helping 167 people who identified themselves as interns, volunteers or work experience workers claw back £192,808 in unpaid wages. BIS says that over the coming year it will launch a social media campaign, publish a student hand-out and encourage people to name bad employers for investigation.

Internship had been a growing route into employment since the mid 2000s as many employers made it an integral part of their recruitment processes.

In a letter to Labour MP Hazel Blears, the employment relations minister, Jo Swinson, said the government would produce the booklet to make graduates aware of their employment rights in time for this summer, when hundreds of thousands of UK students are expected to start hunting for work experience placements, which can last – unpaid – for many months.

A recent survey of more than 150 young PR professionals has revealed that internships are poorly paid, lack diversity and do not even necessarily lead to a role in the end. Just 28 per cent were paid at or above the minimum wage, with almost as many (23 per cent) receiving no payment at all. Ten per cent had been paid expenses plus a small stipend, which was less than the national minimum wage. 15 per cent were paid the national minimum wage. 13 per cent received more than the national minimum wage. If you think the PR industry is unique in this respect, think again. The sector is no different  than others,  and may be better than most.

Under employment law, people who work set hours, do set tasks and contribute value to an organisation are “workers” and  so are entitled to the minimum wage. This means even if your internship was just about being expected to turn up at a certain time and add some numbers in Excel you are likely to be entitled to pay.

So far, every time an intern has taken their employer to court for not being paid the minimum wage they have won.   So employers should beware ( including a few MPs!). It is good that companies employ interns but they should be treated fairly and employers must operate within the law. Many top  companies, perhaps most, expect job applicants to have done three or four internships, before considering them for a  permanent job , and graduates are no exception.

The National Minimum Wage rate per hour depends on your age and whether you’re an apprentice – you must be at least school leaving age to get it.

From 1 October 2013 the Minimum wage will be:

Aged 21 and over   £6.31(£6.19)

Aged 18-20           £5.03 (£4.98)

Aged under 18       £3.72(£3.68)

Apprentice             £2.68 (£2.65)

The Apprentice rate is for apprentices under 19 or those in their first year. If you’re 19 or over and past your first year you get the rate that applies to your age




Survey of heads suggests cuts to vocational provision in schools

Cause for alarm?


New research carried out by the  IPPR think tank, supported by the Edge Foundation, an independent charity that supports practical, technical and vocational education, shows that 60 per cent of schools are either planning to cut the provision of vocational qualifications or have already done so.

This is despite 85 per cent of school leaders agreeing that vocational qualifications are valuable for their students. The IPPR  says that the results of this  survey of senior teachers in English state schools suggests that potentially valuable vocational courses are being removed from school curriculums as a result of changes in 2012 that cut 96 per cent of courses from school performance league tables following recommendations in the Wolf report.

This month marks a year since the government announced the removal of the majority of GCSE-equivalent vocational qualifications from the school performance league tables, in response to valid concerns about the rigour and value of some courses.

When interviewed, two thirds (66 per cent) of the senior school leaders whose schools were cutting vocational provisions admitted that the decision had been taken as a result of the changes to the school performance tables. Just 15 per cent said that the reason for reducing the number of vocational courses was that they did not believe that the courses were valuable.

By contrast, four in five (79 per cent) senior teachers interviewed agreed that vocational qualifications provided a firm foundation for school leavers to join the world of work. Not only that, over two thirds (69 per cent) agreed that vocational qualifications were useful not only for those leaving school aged 16 but ‘offer a strong foundation for further study or training’.

Jan Hodges, CEO of the Edge Foundation, which supported the research, said:

“We want high quality vocational qualifications to achieve parity alongside other educational routes for young people. Our concern is that in attempting to guarantee quality the Government has used a sledgehammer to crack the nut. Schools are now being forced to drop valuable technical, practical and work-related courses or risk getting no credit for the provision.”

The IPPR concludes

‘This poll supports what education analysts have known for some time: that head teachers are highly sensitive to what the government measures in its school performance tables. England needs a self-improving school system in which schools are able to offer learning opportunities that they are confident are in the best interests of their young people. This requires a reformed accountability system for schools that creates fewer perverse incentives and a qualifications framework that is less vulnerable to changing political imperatives in Whitehall.’

A Department for Education spokeswoman said: “Previously schools could do well in performance tables by offering poor-value qualifications, 94% of which failed rigorous tests by experts to check their value to pupils’ future education and employment prospects. “We strongly believe that vocational education needs transforming for young people to succeed in today’s job market, which is why we have overhauled the system to recognise only high quality vocational courses that lead directly to a skilled trade or profession.”

Survey of 252 senior teaching leaders in English state schools in England carried out by Opinion Matters between 10th and 21st December, 2012.


Note-The Edge Foundation wants to ensure that “learning by doing” is valued equally with academic learning


 Young people still  receiving inadequate advice on education choices


Mckinsey have just published an important report ‘Education to Employment’  that seeks to identify why there is such a gap between what businesses and employers  want, and need, and what education systems provide. Around the world, governments and businesses face a conundrum: high levels of youth unemployment and a shortage of job seekers with critical skills. How can a country successfully move its young people from education to employment? What are the challenges? Which interventions work? How can these be scaled up? Almost 40 percent of employers say a lack of skills is the main reason for entry-level vacancies. If employers are not confident that the system delivers what they want, young people  it appears  also lack confidence in the system.  Half of youth are not sure that their post -secondary education has improved their chances of finding a job. Youth unemployment rates are unacceptably high as is the number of young people   who are not in education, employment or training

It has become received wisdom that businessmen need students with more practical vocational skills. While vocational education appears to be a good solution for policymakers, it has, in fact, low or lesser perceived value among students.

This was an important finding. The research compared student “perceptions of value” between traditional education and vocational education and apprentice programmes. In the research every country values traditional education over vocational education except for Germany.. Germany, of course, is a country regarded as something of a model when it comes to practical skills and vocational programmes, with a myriad of apprentice-based programmes and it  has among the lowest  youth unemployment rates in Europe.

Unfortunately, even there vocational programmes are not always seen as the answer. 23% of students who attended vocational programmes there felt they attended the wrong institution, and 42% are unsure they took the right programme. This  is hardly encouraging.

The report also highlights, more generally, the fact that young people are not getting the advice they need at a crucial time of their lives. The report states ‘they face the daunting task of choosing what to study and where to study it. The evidence is distressing:  way too many young people take a wrong turn here.  Fewer than half of those surveyed are confident that if they had to do it again, they would study the same subject. That’s a lot of disappointment; it’s also a sign that students don’t have the information they need to make the right choices.’

In short ,Youth are not well informed when making   educational and career  choices .

The report continues ‘Some 40 percent of youth report that they were not familiar with the market conditions and requirements even for well-known professions such as teachers or doctors. Without this understanding, many students choose courses half blindly, without a vision of whether there will be a demand for their qualifications upon graduation.’ Sounds familiar?

Politicians wax eloquent about social mobility and the importance of making informed choices at critical points in life. Yet a majority of young people do not have access to high quality, independent advice. They might have an ambition, for example, to go to university but  then fail to take the qualifications that they need to achieve this, because they know no better aged 13 and there is nobody there to support them. Its not rocket science. Social mobility cant and wont improve if so many young people  don’t make the choices that maximise their potential. Until politicians grasp this nettle ,nothing will change.




Labours Techbacc proposals seek to place vocational education centre stage

An important debate is now needed


Remember the Diploma? It was supposed to be the new qualification that helped bridge the yawning divide between academic and vocational qualifications.

The diploma was, in fact, the result of  a botched compromise in the wake of the rejected  Tomlinson proposals.(Tomlinson envisaged the demise of the A level-which  was politically unacceptable at the time) .

The diploma  never enjoyed even lukewarm support from most employers, top universities or the independent sector, despite much arm twisting from politicians and officials, who have done so much to undermine the integrity of our qualifications system through their interventions.

Tomlinson envisaged a bona fide inclusive diploma with genuine breadth. What we got instead was neither one thing, nor the other, designed by committee and not demand led.  As one prominent Headteacher said, in the early days of the diploma, when,  as anticipated by many, few were taking up the qualification, it   was   ‘ poorly conceived, poorly marketed and poorly implemented’.

Alan Johnson, when he was education secretary, should have set the alarm bells ringing when he said that diplomas were neither vocational nor academic qualifications-without quite getting round to  explaining what they actually were or why there was a need for them. Which group of key stakeholders ever got up and said ‘you know, the one thing we really need in our education system right now  is a qualification that is neither  academic nor vocational’ . In a desperate attempt to breathe life into an unpopular qualification that never had robust legs, politicians then over- sold it claiming that it might become the qualification of choice (Ed Balls) and even  replace the A level. In 2009 Ed Balls said “ Diplomas are popular with the people who matter in the job market – the employers,” That was  nonsense on stilts  at the time and is simply embarrassing now. (It seems that quite a lot of what Balls has said and done in the past has a habit of coming back to bite him).

Nobody doubts  the fact that our vocational and practical education is way behind our  major competitors and that we have an absurd  and debilitating divide between  academic and vocational qualifications.  But the diploma was an avoidable mistake. It was  not demand led, was  designed by committee, difficult to implement to a consistent standard across areas, was expensive and never won the confidence of key stakeholders. Politicians and officials do not determine a qualifications worth. The market does that. And the market spoke.

Labours new idea requiring a clear route to a gold standard vocational qualification at 18 called a Technical Baccalaureate deserves a closer look. It seeks to exploit the long standing concerns over how far we are lagging behind  in practical learning and how Goves Ebacc proposals have not much to say about vocational learning.  Labour   wants to ensure that employers are involved in designing  the new qualifications which is vital (this was  a claim made by the way before Diplomas were introduced-but employer interaction ended up getting a bit lost in translation)  Pupils will  complete a programme of work experience-again a sound idea- but work experience is worthless unless it is  part of a quality assured, structured arrangement  and supports the kind of soft  non-cognitive skills desired by  employers. Those getting the new award would also have to pass English and maths courses which sounds good-but this needs to be pitched right-so as not to put off a large section of pupils-but also to ensure that there is rigour there too.

One big problem, of course, backed by evidence, is that even now there are too few high quality specialist maths teachers around and far too few undergraduates taking STEM subjects. Many more good teachers will be required to satisfy this new demand, as well as high quality technical and vocational teachers- these cannot be conjured up at short notice-some long hard thinking has to go into how to meet this demand.

The Labour proposals, hopefully, will kick start an important debate which is long overdue.



Labour also want the £1bn-a-year government-funded apprenticeships programme  to be run by businesses, rather than ministers


Charity that promotes ‘learning by doing’ wants changes to the training and education system

Some concerns that reforms to GCSEs ignores vocational skills


The Edge Foundation, which champions technical, practical and vocational learning,  underpinned by  the mantra “learn by doing”,  launched, in Parliament this week, the publication  ‘Six Steps for Change’- six policy steps which aim to raise the status of technical, practical and vocational learning in the UK. The charity reminds us that there are many pathways to success.

Edge wants an education and training system which helps young people find out what they’re good at and what they enjoy doing; rewards and recognises individual success in all its forms, not just in exams; helps people choose paths that support their talents and ambitions; shows how education creates the knowledge, skills and talents needed by the UK economy;

Edge says that ‘with these aims in mind, we want politicians, practitioners and the public to:

recognise that there are many talents and paths to success

ensure that “learning by doing” is valued equally with academic learning

provide technical, practical and vocational learning as an integral and valued part of every young person’s education and as a recognised route to success

from the age of 14, give young people a choice of learning experiences and pathways based on their motivation, talents and career aspirations

ensure that the technical, practical and vocational education and qualifications offered in schools, FE and HE are high quality and recognised by employers

ensure all young people, whatever their different abilities and interests, leave the system with confidence, ambition and the skills to succeed and the skills the economy needs’


Among its practical recommendations -under Step Four… ‘From the age of 14 give young people a choice of learning experiences..’ is that young people should have access to impartial careers information, advice and guidance from the age of 11 so they can make informed choices at 14+’

At the launch there was much praise for John Hayes, the recently reshuffled Skills Minister, but there were also concerns that ,with his departure , the vocational element of learning might not  now get the attention it deserved, despite its growing importance.

Hayes was responsible for  launching the National Careers Service which covers advice at 18+ ,with other careers advice for young people, now the responsibility of schools, although  they have no ring fenced budget for this provision.  The new National Careers Service, launched in April 2012, offers a single point of access to online and helpline support but is focused  specifically on young adults. There are real concerns that young people, particularly the most disadvantaged, who need face to face professional advice and mentoring will , because of cost considerations, not get access to such advice,   undermining the drive for greater social mobility.

Jan Hodges, CEO of the Edge Foundation, said on BBC 2 Newsnight, on 17 September, that  she   understands the need for GCSE  reform but   said that the reforms do not go far enough.  Pupils need   access to vocational options and applied skills with some means of assessment and recognition of their achievements, not just their academic achievements .The proposed EBacc (or is it EBC ?) focuses exclusively on academic subjects.   We need  a more  fundamental debate and discussion about what  outcomes we need  from our  education and assessment  systems.In her view, we   haven’t, as yet, struck the right balance between academic knowledge and   vocational skills. Her message was reiterated by Lord Baker, the former Tory Education Secretary, who introduced GCSEs (although the qualification was conceived by Keith Joseph).  Lord Baker, chairman of the Edge Foundation, advocates learning by doing  and helped launch, with the late Lord Dearing, University Technical Colleges supported by universities and local employers.

Download the full Six Steps for Change report:



Wants a great debate on the future of Vocational Education

Likes UTCs and the  BTEC

Warns about lack of good Apprenticeships for Young People


Shadow Education Secretary Stephen Twigg in his 2 November lecture praised the Edge Foundation saying that few have done so much to raise the status of technical, practical and vocational education. He praised,  in particular, the Foundations role in support of  the studio schools movement.

Education   is important, he said, for  personal development;,for cultural enrichment ,to enable people to be good citizens  but  it is also ‘an important tool for social justice and social mobility and, of course , it must help people get jobs.

Having delivered an impassioned defence of the last Governments record in education (Twigg had been a schools Minister) he identified three main immediate challenges ahead:


Delivering high status, rigorous pathways in vocational education


Addressing the Literacy and Numeracy levels post 16, which obstruct personal development and act as a barrier to economic progress


And fostering high class and high status institutions- such as the UTCs that are striving to become the exemplar model – in vocational education

On pathways and robustness, Twigg championed the BTEC qualification, as opposed to GNVQ (similar to HE Minister  David Willetts on this issue ).  He said “ Many in the field tell me that rigorous and work based vocational qualifications- such as the BTEC- motivate young people to stay in education and make progress as a result. Strengthening the evidence base for making this case will be important for Edge and others for the argument to be successful. My instincts are that Edge is right on this but I will make an evidence based judgement on this.”

On apprenticeships he said that according to The Guardian, fewer than 7% of the new places for the Academic Year 2010-11 have gone to 16- 18 year olds. The number of new apprentices under 25 accounted for just 16% of the figures for this year. That’s just 1 in 6 new apprentices at a time when youth unemployment is almost one million. Within the Government’s own defined target sectors, modest increases can be seen in construction, engineering, planning and the built environment. I welcome these increases, while remaining concerned about the lack of apprenticeships for young people.   He warned that ‘Apprenticeships risk becoming a tainted brand unless rigour is applied.” He said “ I want Apprenticeships to be seen as the Gold Standard of post-16 Vocational Education. For parents to be as proud of their child securing a top apprenticeship as they are of their child going to university.”

On the Literacy Challenge Twigg said ‘As Professor Wolf notes ‘English and Maths GCSE (at grades A*-C) are fundamental to young people’s employment and education prospects. Yet less than 50% of students have both at the end of Key Stage 4 (age 15/16); and at age 18 the figure is still below 50%. Only 4% of the cohort achieve this key credential during their 16-18 education.’ So,there should now be a focus on Literacy and Numeracy from the age of 16.

Twigg welcomed the progress on UTCs, an initiative launched by the last Government. He added ‘ I want to make the argument for a Technical Baccalaureate. It cannot be right that where UTCs offer high value qualifications- enabling educational progression and developing a workforce that meets the needs of a new economy, that such qualifications are not recognised.” The Baccalaureate would provide valuable recognition for hands on technical and vocational subjects as well as academic achievement.

“Engaging pathways for all”-2nd Annual Edge Lecture, November 2nd, 2011 Stephen Twigg MP, Shadow Education Secretary

Note:Edge champions technical, practical and vocational learning and  seeks to demonstrate how it leads to inventive, rewarding careers. It supports a Technical Baccalaureate. The Edge Foundation is Chaired by Lord Baker who has championed University Technical Colleges.

Note 2. There was an Adjournment debate in the Commons on  2 November on UTCs

Hansard 2 Nov


Diplomas-the beginning of the end?

Low take up and high costs may seal diplomas fate


Are we seeing the beginning of the end of the diploma, the qualification that appears not to have won the confidence of key stakeholders?  One leading Head told me eighteen months ago that the diploma, to his mind, was “poorly conceived, poorly managed and  poorly marketed”.  Other critics have claimed it is too complex, too expensive, and insufficiently rigorous and not demand led. The last charge, in particular, has a certain resonance. The diploma, which one Secretary of State described as neither an academic nor a vocational qualification, was the result of a compromise rather than any lobbying from employers or admissions tutors. It was decidedly not demand-led. Ruth Kelly the then Education Secretary couldn’t accept the proposals offered by Mike Tomlinson for an overarching post 16 Diploma because  Tony Blair wasn’t prepared to dump the A level. So the resulting compromise was the diploma. Neither the best universities, nor employers have taken to the diploma, which has not been helped by overselling by politicians (Ed Balls ,when Education Secretary, predicted it would be  ‘the jewel in the crown ‘of our education system) and very low take up at its launch. The Tories when in opposition were very lukewarm about the diploma and their concern was not to pull the rug from under those who had already opted to study it.  But they had no great faith in the qualification itself. An Ofsted report in 2009 found that among many of the first cohort of 14 to 19-year-old students taking the diploma there was “little firm evidence of their achievement in functional skills”, including maths, English and IT, inspectors said. Ofsted inspectors were also concerned about the lack of formal assessment of the qualification. “There was little evidence of frequent marking or checking of students’ knowledge and understanding in relation to work they had completed,” the report said.

Only one diploma has  really caught the eye. Engineering .But the expense is a big problem. Wellington College ,the £30,000 a year public school ,which has strong brand identity, aimed to launch the Engineering diploma but decided against because it couldn’t raise the funds on a sustainable basis to support its delivery(they were going to offer it to some local state pupils too)  . Now it has been revealed, according to a report in the TES last month, that the diploma has cost the taxpayer nearly £20,000 for every pupil completing it. The figure, which does not include teaching costs, is almost twice the amount previously estimated. And the final bill, already hundreds of millions, could be higher still. Professor Alan Smithers from Buckingham University said: “It is a terrible waste. The diploma doesn’t have much recognition or open many doors.”  And where is the demand? Much less than half the pupils anticipated have opted for diplomas.  Just 9,069 of the diplomas aimed at GCSE-level pupils were completed this year, compared to 5.15 million GCSEs. They are likely to drop further as this year’s courses were begun before the change in government and the launch of its English Baccalaureate – both likely to further damage the diploma.

So far, according to the TES, only 15,063 students have finished a diploma at any level since it was first launched in 2008. In the meantime, at least £295.6 million of Government money has been spent on developing the diploma, funding consortia and training staff to deliver it, and subsidising transport so pupils could reach lessons.

The figure works out at £19,624 per candidate, nearly four times the annual £5,083 average per-pupil school funding in England, and only covers diploma spending until the end of March 2010. The Government thinks that exam boards should be able to continue to offer the diploma if they think there is a market for it. The writing seems to be on the wall for the diploma. That is what happens to qualifications that are introduced without clear evidence of demand. Qualifications designed to impress employers and Higher Education institutions must listen to them and ensure that they are engaged in a meaningful way in their design, in their  quality assurance and implementation .This did not happen. Instead we had the classic command and control interventions from Whitehall trying to implement a compromise political ‘solution’ which was never fully backed by stakeholders.  We are  now seeing the expensive consequences of this  folly.



Look at the small print before rejoicing


The Government intends to create an “all age careers service”. However, as Careers England has pointed out, in the wake of the Education Bills Commons passage (it is now  with the Lords ) the process towards achieving the new duty on schools to provide careers advice and guidance  and   the establishment of  the new Careers Service  appears deeply flawed. Why? Firstly, as things stand, it is uncertain whether the all age careers service will be a strong strategic public provider of specialist careers support in all localities, or merely a set of contracted operators. Indeed, there are serious concerns that it may only be able to support, on a direct  face to face basis, a very limited number of adults. Secondly,   the new all age careers service will have no right of access to any school, unless it is invited by the respective school.  So, one has to ask, how will a pupil in a school where the careers service is not invited, access it? What seems likely   is that the much trumpeted  independent professional  careers advice available to all pupils 13-16 (why not 16-18, one wonders?) will in practice be limited to little more than  website provision.

What we have here is a profound disconnect between the initial rhetoric and the now anticipated outcome. The   all age careers service as now envisaged will not, in fact, be resourced to provide face to face careers advice to any young people in education; it will only be enabled to do so if schools decide to  buy in its services. With schools budgets under severe pressure and schools setting their own priorities some pupils may, if they are lucky, get access to good professional advice, but others clearly wont. So, a post code lottery will develop. The quality and accessibility of the advice given to our young people will depend on where they live, and more specifically on what school they attend. So much for a ‘national’ careers service! Its branding is misleading in other ways too.   The Government intends to raise the age for participation in learning to 18 by 2015, yet concurrently limits our young people’s entitlement to careers guidance to age 16. Given the importance attached to decisions made by young people from 16-18 this flies in the face of common sense. With youth unemployment at record levels and the number of those not in education, employment or training on the rise, it is surely folly on a biblical scale to deny our youth sound professional  support and advice,  as they seek to embark on their professional lives with so much stacked against them A recent report from the Princes Trust reminded us just how lacking in confidence and self-belief are  our poorest children and if you combine this with their low aspirations and    no, or little, access to  face to face advice and guidance ,you have a recipe surely for social dysfunction.  The social and economic costs of such folly   will reveal themselves over time. Unless, that is,   there is a rethink from the Government during the Lords stages of the Education Bill.


NOTE: Andy Burnham, the Shadow Education Secretary, in a Debate on Vocational Education on 12 May, welcomed the vision of an all-age careers service, but asked where  the long-promised transition plan to deliver such a service  was . He asked how the Secretary of State will secure the quality of service that Professor Wolf demanded in her paper on Vocational education.. Burnham sought to amend the Education Bill to give young people a guarantee of face-to-face guidance in our schools.  Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, quoted Professor Alison Wolf as endorsing ‘a more modern measure enabling skilled careers advisers and “proper, online, updated information” to provide students with the right answers.’  It is still not clear how the ‘skilled’ careers adviser will feature in this new landscape. Goves  response appears to give weight to on line information rather than face to face advice. Minister John Hayes had said in the Commons on 11 May that “I find it inconceivable, or at least unlikely, that best practice will not include face-to-face provision”, which has not much  helped ease worries about the end of  widespread  face to face advice.