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UK needs plumbers, not graduates, bosses say

Dominic Hayes
Sunday 21 July 2002 00:00 BST

The United Kingdom needs more plumbers and fewer media studies graduates, company bosses said yesterday as they called for a radical shake-up of state education.

The Institute of Directors is calling on the Government scrap its target that 50 per cent of under-30s should go to university by 2010, saying it would be better to equip teenagers with the vocational skills companies need.

The IoD's policy director' Ruth Lea' said she agreed with the Prime Minister that "one size fits all" comprehensives were not the answer.

However, in a policy paper entitled Education and Training: A Business Blueprint for Reform, she urges ministers to follow the examples of Germany, Austria, Switzerland and the Netherlands and develop distinct academic and vocational "pathways".

Under her proposals, from the age of 14, some pupils would continue with an academic education that would take them on to university, while others would undergo rigorous training in vocational skills. "It's quite blunt, it's old-fashioned selection but more in the Continental style that that of the 1944 Education Act," she said.

She also rejected suggestions that pupils who took the vocational route would be looked upon as inferior, saying that was not the case on the Continent.

The Government is replacing GNVQs with vocational GCSEs and A-Levels but Ms Lea said she was concerned that this "mix and match" approach was too complicated and would confuse employers.

A Department for Education and Skills spokeswoman dismissed the IoD's call for the Government's 2010 target on university attendance to be scrapped: "Our 50 per cent target is underpinned by economic necessity – eight out of 10 jobs created in the next decade will require graduate level skills."

The recent Green Paper on education for 14- to 19-year-olds was "expressly designed to build parity of status between vocational and academics routes to allow students to follow high-quality pathways tailored to their talents", she said.

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