Vocational training is back in the news today, with the publication of a report from the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) and the Edge Foundation that looks at how changes to schools performance league tables have led to schools dropping vocational courses from the curriculum.
The changes introduced by the government in 2012 saw 96% of vocational courses being removed from the league tables. It should therefore come as no surprise to find that, according to the IPPR survey, “60% of school leaders said their school had already reduced the number of vocational qualifications on offer or was planning to do so”.
Such a change couldn’t have come at a worse time. A significant number of pupils have been put off applying to university due to the trebling of tuition fees and the fact that a graduate-level job is no longer a certainty when they leave. After years of rising university numbers, young people are now taking time to consider what other options are available to them before committing to such a vast amount of debt before they even start work.
If they can find a job in an economy of 957,000 unemployed 16-24 year-olds, many of those pupils will choose to go straight into work, yet the most obvious route to that – vocational qualifications at secondary level – is now being denied them.
It seems absurd to introduce measures that will deter young people from remaining in education while simultaneously introducing changes that deter schools from offering vocational training. Not everyone is suited to the academic route through higher education and into employment, just as not everyone is suited to vocational training and apprenticeships, but they should all be allowed to follow the path that best develops their abilities and skills.
As we have often said, this generation of young people faces the toughest set of economic circumstances of any generation since the second world war. Adding to their difficulties is not just going to be bad for them, it is bad for the economy and for our society as a whole.