by Mark Corney
The TechBacc Divide
The Department for Education has launched the new TechBacc. The policy rationale is to give vocational education the high status it deserves. The political rationale is to offer a rival to Labour's TechBacc.
Under the Coalition Government, the TechBacc is a measure rather than a qualification, bringing together a Level 3 core Maths qualification alongside a high quality Level 3 vocational qualification and an extended project.
But the key point to make is that the TechBacc is a Level 3 measure for 16 to 19 year olds sitting alongside A levels. Labour's conception is of a 14 to 18 TechBacc from 14, covering Level 2 and Level 3 vocational qualifications.
Redefining the 16 to 19 Funding Gap
A second area where a Coalition-Labour divide could emerge is over the 16 to 19 funding gap.
In the past, the 16 to 19 funding gap was defined in terms of different funding rates between school sixth forms and FE colleges. But now the debate is being re-positioned as between 16 to 19 funding rates and pre-16 schools funding, and university funding for full-time HE students. 16 to 19 funding rates are lower than both pre-16 schools funding and university funding.
This is a welcome development in the 16 to 19 policy debate as we move towards the Spending Review.
The Coalition has made clear DfE funding for 16 to 19 will not be protected in the Spending Review even though pre-16 schools funding will be, and funding for full-time HE students looks politically ring-fenced despite BIS being a non-protected department.
Ending Army Apprenticeships before 18
The UK is one of the few nations of the world that permits young people under 18 to enter the armed services as employed apprentices.
Since young people under the age of 18 are legally children and being 'trained to kill' even though they do not go on front-line duties until after their 18th birthday, human rights' organisations argue that recruitment should stop before 18.
Another set of arguments against pre-18 recruitment is the cost and benefits to the MoD. The costs of training pre- 18 year old apprentices is higher than adult recruits, and more from the younger age are likely to have shorter lengths of service compared to older recruits.
And yet there is an important 'education and skills' dimension to stopping recruitment before 18. Around 2,000 16 to 17 year olds are recruited into armed forces' apprenticeships. Stopping recruitment before 18 would presumably imply even fewer 16 and 17 year olds in apprenticeships and more not in education, employment or training. This is far from an ideal outcome for the raising of the participation age to 18 in September 2015, and would add to the well-known long-term costs to society of the NEET group.
Oh for a traineeship!
The launch of the design framework for 16-24 traineeships alas has yet to be published. The urgency comes from the commitment by the DfE for the programme to be in place for 16 and 17 year olds from this September when the RPA is to increase to 17.
What the design framework must make clear is whether 16 to 17 on traineeships are employed or non-employed.
If they are employed with employers paying the wages, the critical question is funding for providers to engage employers. Given that the proportion of 16 and 17 year olds who are employed with and without training is less than 5% of the cohort already and growth remains elusive, this could be an expensive undertaking.
But if, on the contrary, 16 and 17 year olds on trainees are non-employed, the key issue becomes whether their parents are eligible for means-tested child benefit and child tax credit, and trainees are eligible for means-tested bursary grants. For this to be the case, traineeships would have to be classed as a form of full-time non-advanced further education. Parents and students are only eligible for means-tested financial support if they are in full-time education. In the case of child benefit, full time is defined as 12 hours per week during term time, excluding home study.
Whatever the status of 16 and 17 year olds on traineeships, the Coalition must avoid generating false hopes. The key progression route from traineeships is to apprenticeships. Unfortunately, employers are cutting back apprenticeship places for 16 and 17 year olds.