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Osfted Chief Inspector calls for improved vocational provision in schools

There are a number of aspects of the keynote speech given by Sir Michael Wilshaw on his ‘Ambitions for English Education’ (Monday 18 January 2016) that Edge is pleased to support.

Sir Michael recalls being equally proud of a student from a troubled family who started his own plumbing business as he was of the former pupil who ended up as the first black president of the Oxford Union.

He is clear that the youngsters in schools that he led did well because ‘we exploited their different talents and provided them with different pathways to success.’

As David Harbourne, Edge’s Acting Chief Executive says: ‘Sir Michael Wilshaw supports the Edge Foundation’s assertion that there needs to be a range of opportunities for young people from 14 upwards, not just university, and all educational pathways should be of a quality which gives them equal status.

Learning by doing is as valuable, challenging and aspirational as academic learning. Edge wants to see a balanced 14-18 curriculum which provides academic, practical and creative learning to allow all students to make the most of their talents and fulfil their potential. As Sir Michael points out, careers advice is woefully inadequate across the board, despite it being vital to help young people define their own pathway to success.

Sir Michael rightly cites that countries with excellent academic and technical routes have far lower youth unemployment than we do.

Despite six years of economic recovery and falling unemployment, youth unemployment in the UK still stands at 12%. In Germany it is 7% and in Switzerland 3.7%.

He argues that

educational provision, for the many children who do not succeed at 16 or who would prefer an alternative to higher education, is inadequate at best and non-existent at worst. No area of the country, however, can really claim to succeed when it comes to provision for those youngsters who do not do well at 16. Nor can we say that we are really delivering high-quality vocational education to youngsters of all abilities who would prefer to take this route.

He would like to see local federations of schools established that would include primary and secondary schools and a university technical college, to help promote apprenticeship pathways at levels 4, 3 and 2. But he stresses that these

would not be a dumping ground for the disaffected and cater just for the lower-ability youngsters.

David Harbourne agrees:

Specialist schools and colleges, including Studio Schools and University Technical Colleges, all have a role to play in broadening opportunity for young people and equipping them with the skills a modern, global economy needs.