The party's vocational education ideas are eye-catching, but need a little more thoughtby Laura McInerney / April 9, 2015 / Leave a comment
Vocational education has become a major issue, and one nobody knows how to solve—not even down-with-the-workers Labour. They’re still going to try though. Not least because it works well as part of Ed Miliband’s “we’re going to do the right thing” narrative, which neatly contrasts with Cameron’s “we’re going to do the tough thing.”
Labour’s education manifesto, which the party launched today in London, reflects that. Don’t get misty-eyed: the party’s education policies are not about “aspiration,” they are definitely about “employment.” Whimsical notions of dreaming spires are gone. In their place are pledges of “gold standard vocational education,” guaranteed apprenticeships, and face-to-face careers advice for secondary school pupils. If you want your kid to get a job, the subtext says, then we are on your side.
Some will cheer loudly at this shift. Careers advisors and work experience were lopped out of schools in the past few years, and further education budget cuts were brutal.
But do the new policies for this golden vocational path stand up?
Labour has “guaranteed” an apprenticeship for every student meeting grade requirements. That’s nice, but how they will get employers to sign up is still a mystery. When teaching in East London, the students I saw looking for apprenticeships often found themselves pitted against hundreds of others for only a few spaces.
Then there’s the careers advice saga. Sigh
Miliband wants to bring back “face-to-face” careers advisors who will sit down with pupils and plot a course through their future. Shadow education secretary Tristram Hunt said they would develop “relationships” with pupils. But 15-year-olds don’t develop deep bonds with random 40-year-olds they see for 20 minutes once in a blue moon. With a tiny budget of £50m, a smarter policy would scrap the face-to-face bit and instead develop online services using Skype or—even better—instant messaging (which is how most young people communicate anyway). Admittedly, this works best with curious, literate young people—who are not the ones struggling to get jobs—but surly teens will be just as hopeless at face-to-face meetings, too.
The promise of a “gold standard” vocational pathway, known as the Technical Baccalaureate, is indeed a Labour idea, and not a bad one—but it has already been stolen. Implemented by the Coalition in September last year, students in five colleges are currently completing…