Tristram Hunt: 'Britain needs skills, skills, skills or else we're stuffed'

Promoting apprenticeships is his 'number one mission', says the man who may soon be education secretary

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The man who could be education secretary next month has said he would be “delighted” if one of his children chose an apprenticeship rather than university, as he pledged that technical and vocational education would be his “number one mission” in the job.

Tristram Hunt, who went to private school and Cambridge, said an Education and Skills Bill would be introduced within the first 100 days of Ed Miliband’s government, to give the same prestige to vocational education as attending university. Labour’s Institutes of Technical Education would specialise in different subjects such as engineering, aerospace or technology, he said.

In an interview with The Independent on Sunday, Mr Hunt said the institutes would be as important to the next Labour government as sponsor academies were to the last, and that Labour was intent on “creating high-aspiration institutions, with innovation and rigour at their heart. This is about transforming a part of British education that’s been historically neglected”.


Mr Hunt, defending Stoke-on-Trent Central, said more and more middle-class parents were wondering if their child would be better off taking up an apprenticeship, with the promise of a decent, well-paid job at the end of it, than going to university and being saddled with thousands of pounds in debt. “People are thinking: ‘Is a not-great degree from a not-great institution a better use of my time than getting on to an apprenticeship?’

“There is an interesting cultural shift at the moment. I still want kids from Stoke-on-Trent to go to the best universities they possibly can, if that’s the pathway they want. But I also want them to get apprenticeships at BAE or Rolls-Royce. I went to visit Marylebone School for Girls in north London, a very high-performing state secondary beloved of many professional families. And the careers adviser there was saying that more and more of the pupils’ parents were asking about apprenticeship routes. I expect that, in Dudley or Stoke or Hartlepool, but if that’s happening at Marylebone School for Girls, I think something has changed.”

While Jaguar Land Rover in the West Midlands employs skilled labour from abroad, five miles down the road Hodge Hill has the highest rate of youth unemployment in the country. Mr Hunt added: “We are going to need so many more technicians, and our schools and colleges aren’t delivering those. There is a terrible mismatch between what our economy needs and what we’re producing.

“This is our fundamental mission about education as the vehicle for coping with globalisation – particularly for those communities left behind by globalisation, the white, working-class communities who feel that globalisation isn’t delivering for them as they don’t have the skills and opportunities to confront it.

“We just need skills, skills, skills or else we’re stuffed.” Asked if he’d be happy for one of his three children, all aged under seven, to go down the apprenticeship route, Mr Hunt said he’d “be delighted”. “It’s the right pathway. There’s a growth of respect for being an apprentice.”

Tristram Hunt wants to introduce a technical Baccalaureate - for young people learning vocational skills, technical degrees which people can study for while they are earning and more two-year apprenticeships (Getty)

Mr Hunt said Labour activists posting pictures of themselves on Twitter under the hashtag #labourdoorstep was giving the Conservatives “the yips” – a golfing expression that means nervous twitching on the putting green is causing a player to throw away a lead. He said: “Everyone taking pictures of themselves campaigning, it’s almost like warpaint – we’re showing you the numbers. It gives the other parties the yips because it’s like ‘here we are on a Saturday morning in the rain at 10 o’clock and there are 30 of us’.”

Mr Hunt acknowledged that in Scotland, however, the picture for Labour was entirely different: “We hold our hands up and say this was not something on the risk radar, but perhaps we thought after the referendum it would return to business as normal.

“But the SNP are really unprogressive on education… the SNP have looked after the high-profile St Andrews and Edinburgh universities, smashed further education and not addressed the attainment gap in schools in cities like Glasgow. If you’re a poor kid from around the world, you want to end up in a London school. The SNP have got no sense of urgency about that at all.”

Asked whether Mr Miliband would stay on as leader if 7 May produced an inconclusive result, Mr Hunt said: “We are all focused on 7 May and I think Ed has confounded expectations. Scotland is a world historic shift on massive tectonic scale that has taken everyone by surprise, which clearly has political implications. But from Lincoln to Amber Valley to Sherwood to Ashfield, where I was the other day, it was very positive and that’s the result of Ed’s leadership.”

Would he be interested in the leadership if there were a vacancy? “I am more than passionate about being the education secretary in a Labour government with a good, healthy majority. It’s exciting to be with both the Yvettes and Eds and Andys, who have done government and know their way around, and the Glorias, Rachels and Chukas of the 2010 intake – we bring a different sort of perspective and baggage; Ed’s very encouraging of our intake, so having a mix will work.”

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