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Tuesday 22nd January 2013 | 13:23
Stephen Twigg MP
Shadow Education Secretary
House of Commons
22 January 2013
Thank you for giving us the opportunity to set out our thinking on the curriculum and qualifications in last Wednesday’s debate.
As David Laws said in his speech, we appreciate the way in which you acknowledged some of the last government’s failures. You said that the system of assessment and qualifications is flawed and ‘ripe for reform’. You conceded there are profound problems with modularisation. You accepted that many of the qualifications which were introduced under the last government were not ‘fit for purpose’. And you admitted that the banning of iGCSEs from maintained schools was a mistake. I wholeheartedly agree with all these points.
I would like to follow up on our exchanges around vocational education. I am sure you agree with me that providing high quality vocational education must be a priority for the Department for Education. That is why we have done so much in this area in the last two and a half years – commissioning and implementing the Wolf review into vocational qualifications and the Richard review into apprenticeships, rapidly expanding the apprenticeship programme, ensuring only high quality vocational qualifications count in league tables, developing the technical baccalaureate and opening Studio Schools and University Technical Colleges (UTCs).
Wolf review of vocational qualifications
You said that this government had treated vocational education as ‘an afterthought.’ We commissioned the Wolf review on 9 September 2010, the review reported in March 2011, and we responded to its recommendations in May 2011. We launched our consultation on the reform of Key Stage 4 examinations on 17 September 2012. Given that we set up the Wolf review two years before we set out proposals for Key Stage 4 exams, how can vocational education be an afterthought for this government?
You described the Wolf review as ‘very important… it is an important piece of work that needs to be fully implemented.’ The Wolf review found:
‘The staple offer for between a quarter and a third of the post-16 cohort is a diet of low-level vocational qualifications, most of which have little to no labour market value. Among 16 to 19 year olds, the Review estimates that at least 350,000 get little to no benefit from the post-16 education system.’
‘funding incentives have deliberately steered institutions, and, therefore, their students, away from qualifications that might stretch (and reward) young people and towards qualifications that can be passed easily.’
Does your endorsement of the Wolf review mean you agree with its analysis of the vocational qualifications landscape left by the last government?
You also said ‘the Secretary of State has not implemented fully the Wolf report.’ When I challenged you on this point, you could not name any recommendations we have not implemented (besides the recommendation on English and maths, which I come to below). Could you now state which recommendations from the Wolf review you believe we have not implemented and must now implement?
English and maths
You said: ‘The full implementation of English and maths right through to 18 is in the Wolf report and the Government have not said that that is one of their plans.’
This is not correct. Recommendation 9 of the Wolf review stated: ‘Students who are under 19 and do not have GCSE A*-C in English and/or Maths should be required, as part of their programme, to pursue a course which either leads directly to these qualifications, or which provide significant progress towards future GCSE entry and success.’
We have taken this recommendation forward in full, as announced on 6 October 2011 (‘English and maths for all students until they achieve good grades’, http://www.education.gov.uk/inthenews/inthenews/a00198873/gibb-simpler-fairer-funding-system-to-improve-post-16-education).
Do you therefore acknowledge it is incorrect to say we have not implemented the Wolf review’s recommendation on English and maths?
You also said: ‘the Opposition are committed to maths and English for all up to age 18’. What qualifications do you envisage young people who have passed GCSEs in English and maths, but do not wish to take A-levels, should study? Would a pupil who already has an A* in GCSE maths but wants to take A-levels in History, English Literature and Physics be forced to take maths A-level as well?
In addition to the Wolf review, we asked Doug Richard to lead a review of apprenticeships which focused on improving quality and raising standards (http://www.education.gov.uk/a00211634/richard-review).
Do you agree with his recommendations? Do you acknowledge that this government is taking forward those recommendations? Are there any areas you believe the Richard review overlooked and if so, what are your proposals?
You called for ‘a technical baccalaureate at 18, including English and maths for all.’ In the Daily Telegraph on 2 October last year, you said the technical baccalaureate should be ‘a gold standard vocational qualification’. Does this mean your technical baccalaureate would be a single, new qualification?
The Wolf Review found: ‘Recent experience with the Diploma underlines the danger of trying to create new, highly detailed and very complex programmes on a national scale, especially in an environment which already has important and well-established qualifications and qualification pathways, known to employers and HE alike.’
Do you agree with the Wolf review on this point?
If you do, as you have said, agree with Alison Wolf, and your technical baccalaureate is not a new qualification, what is it?
We have set out our own plans for a technical baccalaureate for 16-18 year-olds. This would be awarded to young people who gain existing vocational qualifications in areas such as construction, engineering and health and social care. Only the best qualifications, with a high proportion of external assessment, will contribute to the technical baccalaureate. Students will also have to take mathematics and complete the extended project qualification, which requires an advanced level of literacy.
What features of our proposal for a technical baccalaureate do you disagree with? Do you not agree that, rather than reinventing the Diploma, the technical baccalaureate should recognise success in existing high quality qualifications combined with further study of maths and work experience?
Studio schools and UTCs
Since May 2010, we have opened 16 Studio Schools. We have approved a further 16 Studio Schools and more groups are applying to set up Studio Schools every year. Studio Schools offer vocational education combined with work experience to 14-19 year-olds who learn in more practical ways. They have been set up in conjunction with major employers, such as Fulham FC, the BBC, and the National Grid.
Do you agree with the Studio School policy? Have you visited a Studio School? Do you acknowledge the impact this policy is having on expanding the provision of high quality practical education?
We are also investing in University Technical Colleges – there are five open so far and we have approved a further 28.
Studio Schools and UTCs are strands of the Free School programme and are therefore outside of local and national bureaucratic control.
Do you agree with this approach? If you do agree with this approach for Studio Schools and UTCs, why do you disagree with it for other Free Schools?
If you do not agree, can you at least commit not to close Studio Schools? Would you allow more to open?
I am keen to reach consensus on the important question of how we improve vocational education, after the mistakes made by the last Government. It would help me, and others, if you could let me know exactly where you stand.