Government skills plan promises technical education reform

Lord Sainsbury

Skills Minister Nick Boles has said government accepts and will implement every one of Lord Sainsbury's recommendations on technical education reform 'unequivocally where possible within current budget constraints'.

The statement comes at the launch of government's Post-16 Skills Plan in response to the Sainsbury independent panel report on technical and professional education. The Sainsbury report was due earlier this year, but, delayed by the EU referendum, Lord Sainsbury's list of 34 recommendations has been published at the same time as government's response.

Reform is necessary to overcome the 'serious problems' of the UK's current system of technical education, which is overly complex and fails to deliver the skills most needed, Sainsbury says. The UK is currently lagging behind the US, Germany and France in productivity per person, partly due to the UK's poor performance on technical and professional education of the adult population. The UK is on course to fall to 28 out of 33 countries of the OECD in terms of developing intermediate skills by 2020, Sainsbury says.

Among his list of recommendations, Sainsbury calls for the setting up of a distinct and coherent technical education route for young people within the overall education system, with two modes of learning: employment based, typically via an apprenticeship; and a college based option.

Government will build this new technical education route, with Sainsbury's recommendation of a common framework of 15 technical education routes encompassing all occupation types to simplify the system, Boles said. Currently there are over 13,000 different qualifications available for 16-18 year-olds. Sainsbury also calls for a common initial core of maths and English for all technical qualifications before specialisation.

Commenting on the Sainsbury report, EngineeringUK chief executive Paul Jackson said: “It’s vital for the future health of the UK economy that young people in sufficient numbers develop the engineering skills that employers need. And it’s equally vital that the routes to developing these skills are student-centred, offering every young person the best possible opportunity to thrive in their chosen industry.

"The Report’s emphasis on the need for clarity and support for young people in choosing the route to their future career is long overdue. The proposed introduction of a ‘transition year’ to give young people the opportunity to focus on bringing their skills in key areas up to the required standard is particularly welcome. Indeed, we would welcome such an approach on broader scale underpinned by government funding. 

"Putting employers front and centre of the development of the routes and providing more structured work placements as part of a technical education programme will have a positive impact on the work-readiness of those entering employment, with new recruits and employer both reaping the benefits. Government’s Post 16 Skills Plan is reassuring and has now to be backed with the practical and financial support their implementation will require.”

The Sainsbury report and government's Post-16 Skills Plan can be accessed here

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