Budget 2017: Major technical education reforms will make vocational qualifications ‘equal’ to A Levels

Chancellor Philip Hammond will announce new plans and £500m per year funding for technical education

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A transformation in technical education will be revealed in next week’s budget, backed up by £500m a year investment, and an aim to create 15 new “world class routes” of “equal value” to A Levels to prepare school and college leavers for the changing job market.

The plans involve streamlining an estimated 13,000 technical qualifications down to just 15, and take a major step towards closing the startling “productivity gap” between the UK and many other leading developed nations, which the Chancellor Philip Hammond has warned is the “only sustainable way” to improve living standards.

In his speech Chancellor Hammond will say that as the UK prepares to leave the EU, young people must be better prepared to make the most of the opportunities ahead.

The government intends to work with employers and colleges to design new sector-specific pathways, from construction to creative-based design professions, so that young people leave college with the skills, knowledge and expertise that employers want.

The reforms were first set out in Lord Sainsbury’s review of Technical Education, which the government now intends to implement in full.

Among the recommendations are increasing the amount of training for 16 to 19-year-olds on technical routes by more than 50 per cent to over 900 hours a year, including the completion of a high-quality industry work placement, to begin in 2019.

The Government will also provide maintenance loans similar to student loans for university students to students studying for higher technical education qualifications.

Lord Sainsbury’s report found that demand for technical qualifications and high skilled technical operatives had increased in recent years and would continue to do so. 

The UK’s technical education system is weak by international standards. Only 10 per cent of 20 to 45-year-olds hold technical education as their highest qualification, placing the UK 16th out of 20 OECD countries. By 2020, the UK is set to fall to 28th out of 32 OECD countries for intermediate (upper-secondary) skills.

Lord Sainsbury said: “The news that the Government is to commit significant investment to the development of technical education should be welcomed by everyone who cares about increasing national prosperity and improving social mobility.

“Targeted investment of this type makes economic sense – our international competitors recognised long ago that investing in technical education is essential to enhancing national productivity. But it is also essential if we are to equip people with the knowledge and skills they need to obtain rewarding and skilled employment in the future.”