New ‘tech level’ qualification revealed that offers pupils a top-class vocational education


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The Independent Online

Plans for a new “tech level” to run alongside A-levels and offer pupils a top-class vocational education are unveiled by the Government today.

Exam boards wanting to offer the new qualification will have to get the signed-up backing of businesses or universities before the new qualification gets approval.

The “tech level” is designed to prepare young people for work in a particular occupation (engineering, IT, accounting or hospitality, for instance)  and will need the support of its professional body or five employers registered with Companies House before getting approval to be ranked alongside A-levels in exam league tables.

In addition, ministers are unveiling plans for more general vocational qualifications - which will have to have the backing of universities.

The new exams are seen as an attempt by Education Secretary Michael Gove to ditch the image that he has of only being interested in academic education. He has often said he believes all pupils should be given the opportunity to benefit from a top-class academic education and his school reforms have been interpreted as a desire to move back towards the more traditional core academic curriculum of the 1950’s.

Under the new system, the tech levels and their counterpart general qualifications will be graded and externally assessed by outside markers in the same way that A-levels are and lead to at least 80 per cent of the existing 5,000 vocational qualifications being removed from the league tables as a sign that they do not cut the mustard.

Both the CBI and Labour opposition MPs were wary in their endorsement of the new qualifications - which will be taught for the first time from September 2016 and examined in the summer of 2018.

“We’re facing a critical skills shortage in key industries which risks holding back long-term recovery,” said Neil Carberry, director of employment and skills at the CBI. “That’s why we’ve been calling for tough new vocational qualifications to help bridge the gap.

“The litmus test is that tech levels offer the gold-standard training that employers want, while not being seen as second-class.  Courses must have stretching subject knowledge, rigorous assessment, hard-nosed practical experience and be a stepping stone to a great career,”

Tristram Hunt, Labour’s young people’s spokesman, added:  “After three years of the Government downgrading vocational education, there are almost a million young people unemployed.

“It’s no surprise that David Cameron and Michael Gove are now desperately playing catch up while Labour sets the agenda on skills. It is right that pupils have a choice of taking new vocational courses but Michael Gove needs to reassure parents that it will be a gold standard to sit alongside A-levels and not an afterthought.”

However, Matthew Hancock, the Skills Minister, said:  “Tech levels will recognise rigorous and responsive technical education.  High quality rigorous vocational education is essential to future prosperity and the life chances of millions.”

He added:  “For the first time we will ensure that exam boards list the employers or universities which support their courses,  Only these stretching, strong courses will count in league tables.”