Published Evening Standard 3 October 2012
In his plans for the TechBacc, Ed Miliband should beware the lesson of the Diploma brought in by the last Labour Government, the botched compromise in the wake of the rejected Tomlinson Report proposals.
The diploma never enjoyed even lukewarm support from most employers, top universities or the independent sector, despite much arm twisting from politicians and officials. The engineering diploma, which exceptionally did have some admirers from the academic community, was so expensive that even Wellington College was unable to offer it.
Any new vocational qualification needs to be designed in consulation with employers and include suitable training for those who are going to teach the courses. But it must also take into account the capacity of the education system to deliver and currently schools are not in a position to do so. They are already suffering from a huge shortage in qualified specialist maths teachers, and we are producing too few science and engineering graduates to even maintain a status quo in industry, research and education.
The TechBacc is a moderately encouraging proposal on its merits – Michael Gove’s EBaccs entirely fail to address the vocational side of education. The challenge is how best to bridge the gap between Coalition and Labour policy.