Last month, Michael Gove, the Education Secretary announced the EBacc covering academic subjects including English and Maths to be awarded at 16. From 16, young people can either continue on an academic pathway – progressing to A levels – or enter a vocational pathway – taking high quality vocational qualifications.
The vocational response to the EBacc has been the Tech Bacc. But for a large swathe of expert opinion, from Alison Wolf to Labour peer Lord Adonis, the Tech Bacc and vocational education start at 16 as an equivalent to reformed GCSE re-sits and A levels.
Conservative peer, Lord Baker, has long advocated access to vocational education from 14 rather than 16. At Labour’s party conference last week, he was joined by Ed Miliband.
A question mark hangs over the motivation for allowing access to vocational education at age 14. For some, it is about giving ‘bright pupils’ a choice between an academic curriculum and a vocational curriculum on the condition that Maths and English are studied continuously until age 18. But for Labour leader Ed Miliband it is about engagement and participation for the ‘less academic’ as well.
In his conference speech Miliband said:
“Just think in your mind’s eye about the 14 year old today. Today is a school day. Think about that 14 year old, not academic, already bored at school, maybe already starting truanting, of not going to school.
Now of course, they need to get back to school and their parents need to get them back to school. They can’t afford to drift through life with no qualification.”
But he went on:
“Here’s the choice that I want to offer to that 14 year old who is not academic. English and maths to 18 because rigour in the curriculum matters. But courses that engage them and are relevant to them. Work experience with employers. And then culminating at the age of 18 with a new gold standard qualification so they know that when they are taking that exam they have a gold standard vocational qualification, a Technical Baccalaureate.”
Later at the conference, shadow Education Secretary, Stephen Twigg announced a new taskforce to work-up the idea of a 14+ Technical Baccalaureate.
Labour, it seems, have taken the first major step to reformulate a 14-19 phase of education and skills. Yet, the shadow cabinet must learn the lessons from the last Labour Government on 14-19 policy.
Curriculum and qualifications is but one part of the 14-19 enterprise. Full-time attendance at FE colleges from age 14 and an integrated 14-19 funding system* are equally important.
Mark Corney is policy adviser to the Campaign. He writes in a personal capacity.