In late 2015 David Sainsbury was asked by government to chair a panel of experts that would provide clear recommendations for measures that would not only improve, but transform, technical education in England. The panel’s report was published alongside the government’s Post-16 Skills Plan in July 2016.
Best practice examples of technical education systems, both in this country and internationally, were considered. Employers, teachers, lecturers, learning providers, and young people, were consulted. Experts across industry, academia, education and government were brought together to explore what needed to be done to tackle the UK’s widening skills gap.
The recommendations set out in the report call for a fundamental shift. They propose that young people should be given a choice at 16 between two equally high quality options: academic and technical. The technical option should be built around 15 clear routes to skilled employment. Each route should be available through apprenticeships or college-based courses, so that young people can choose the mode of learning that suits them best. Transition support should be available for people not yet ready to access the options at 16, and effective bridging options should be available for people who later change their minds.
In industries like engineering, construction, healthcare and finance, the most-skilled nations have clearly defined occupational routes that set out clear technical education standards, resulting in recognised national qualifications. Germany has six main routes for dual apprenticeships with around 320 national training standards. In comparison, England has no specific routes and 22,140 certificates offered by 160 different awarding organisations. For example, someone aiming for a future career in plumbing has 33 qualifications to choose from.
The panel’s recommendations seek to streamline the system substantially, and allow individuals and employers to see how college-based courses sit alongside apprenticeships as equally valid pathways to skilled employment. Most crucially however, it will give this country – for the first time – a national system of technical qualifications that works in the marketplace because it delivers the knowledge and skills employers need.