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Labour conference: Ed Miliband to announce big educational reforms (but won’t mention GCSEs)

1 October 2012

10:01 PM

1 October 2012

10:01 PM

Each day of the Labour conference covers a different aspect of Britain that Ed Miliband wants to rebuild, and tomorrow’s theme as the Labour leader gives his speech will be rebuilding the education system. Miliband will announce plans for a new Technical Baccalaureate which starts at 14 and runs until 18. The idea is to target those children who will not be going to university, but who, according to Miliband, do not currently have the same road map for their future as those going down an academic route. Describing these students as the ‘forgotten 50 per cent’, he will say:

‘In the 21st century everyone should be doing some form of education up to 18, not 16. That gives us the chance and the obligation to develop a new system from 14 to 18, in particular, for vocational qualifications. I want a curriculum that is rigorous and relevant with English and Maths up to 18, not 16, culminating in a new technical baccalaureate at 18 based on gold standard qualifications.

‘I want ours to be a country where kids aspire not just to go to Oxford and Cambridge but to excellent technical colleges and elite vocational institutions. We need to do what we haven’t done in decades: build a culture in our country where vocational qualifications are not seen as second class certificates but for what they can be – a real route on and up to quality apprenticeships.’

The ‘Tech Bacc’ will offer a route for a ‘gold standard’ qualification at 18 like the well-respected City & Guilds certificates. It will not replace A-levels, but students will choose at 16 whether to go down the vocational route or not. They will all be required to take some form of Maths and English up to the end of their schooling. And once they do leave, there will be a new system of apprenticeships waiting for them, or they can still go to university with such a highly-respected schooling behind them. Although there is no target for the number of students who will take this vocational qualification, the estimate is that it could apply to 136,000.

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Miliband makes a very strong point about the forgotten 50 per cent (although it’s actually closer to the forgotten 52 per cent). It is unfair that a 14 year old achieving top grades in English can chart their future all the way to their graduation from university at 21 while their less academic classmate could leave education forever two years later with no clear trajectory.

But what is confusing about tomorrow’s announcement is that while it uses the same language as the coalition’s reforms to GCSEs, with both new qualifications taking the ‘baccalaureate’ tag, Labour is not going to address whether the English Baccalaureate will indeed replace the current secondary exams system, or whether GCSEs are here to stay. The decision won’t be made until 2015 because Labour wants to have a discussion with teachers about what they want to be the future of qualifications. That’s all very well and good, but this September’s year seven children will be the ones taking the new EBacc in 2017, and they will be starting the courses properly as 14 year-olds in 2015. Leaving the decision until after the general election means Labour could theoretically scrap an exam three or four months before teenagers start the course. Gove has already started encouraging schools to use IGCSEs in the interim as a more rigorous alternative to qualifications whose reputation is now seriously damaged. And exam boards will have started focusing their energies on bidding to set papers for certain subjects, closing down their operations on other GCSEs.

Aides around Miliband are keen to brief that this conference disproves the notion that Labour is not producing any concrete policies, setting out instead a blueprint for rebuilding Britain. But the leader of the opposition is proving to be a poor builder by refusing to address the GCSE issue: they are pretty essential bricks in education policy, after all.

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Show comments
  • franch

    In my opinion the TBacc/EBacc should be a levels 2/3 QCF qualifications comprising
    the core subjects of English, Maths, and Science taken age 16 to 18 years. The
    rest would presumably be selected from the liberal arts, foreign language
    and/or technology.

    The vocational route should link to level HNC level 4, HND level 5 and on
    to professionally accredited Degrees levels 6&7, or the parallel NVQs
    underpinned by massively increased Apprenticeship funding using the £9k
    saved per student- assuming we still have the right balance, number and quality
    of companies to effectively participate.

  • franch

    In my opinion the TBacc/EBacc should be a levels 2/3 QCF qualifications comprising
    the core subjects of English, Maths, and Science taken age 16 to 18 years. The
    rest would presumably be selected from the liberal arts, foreign language
    and/or technology.

    The vocational route should link to level HNC level 4, HND level 5 and on
    to professionally accredited Degrees levels 6&7, or the parallel NVQs
    underpinned by massively increased Apprenticeship funding using the £9k
    saved per student- assuming we still have the right balance, number and quality
    of companies to effectively participate.

  • Janes

    Why not just adopt the International Baccalaureate and stop all this posturing. It offers a range of subjects,marks from 0 to 45 and cannot be manipulated by any government.

  • Alastair Gould

    Could end up with even more employment. A industrial, job for life education, in a de-industrialised world where people will change careers several times.

    • McRobbie

      Short sighted view in my opinion – any experience of work is good for a CV and of interest to employers .,. so vocational skills gained will always stand you in good stead in any job … many kids are just not academic, but doesn’t mean they are in any way stupid many thrive in a productive work environment who just had no interest in schooling beyond the basics .. so give them vocational skills and OK, their vocation may change, but they will be able to adapt as they have work experience.

      • Alastair Gould

        No they won’t. I personally have never found my part-time retail experience any good at all, with my professional career.

        In germany, people who’s occupations are made defunct, have a real hard time retraining and end up in ‘mini-jobs’.

        In short vocational education is the short sighted option. It may solve unemployment NOW, but long-term unemployment in the future will increase. http://www.economist.com/node/16645940

  • Bruce, UK

    “the same road map for their future as those going down an academic route”

    Use family connections to progress through lower school with extra tuition
    Get “Saturday Job” saying right-on things on radio
    Work as intern for sitting MP (Benn dynasty)
    Attend Top Uni (Oxbridge BA of course – no danger of a BSc) plus another two including Top Uni USA
    Become special advisor to Chancellor (which one, I wonder?)
    Take year out for workplace due to bullying by current “best pal”
    Become even more special advisor to worst Chancellor ever
    Get parachuted into safe northern seat on “merit”
    Become responsible for the (then) worst Energy Policy ever
    Stuff brother to become Union cat’s paw and/or party leader

    No Ed we cannot all have the same road map

    • TomTom

      Because you are not Nomenklatura of The New Left. Miliband and Hobsbawm the two Left doctrinaires whose children were connected through Sarah Brown with links back to Attlee’s Bete-Noire Prof. Harold Laski. The Second World War which made Stalin a household name and provided his Agents of Influence a leg up in British institutions……..The Long March

  • Tarka the Rotter

    “In the 21st century everyone should…’ Really? Everyone, whether they are suited or not? ‘Should.’ – ah, the authoritarian speaks out again… How about ‘In the 21st century government should stop trying to micro-manage people’s lives…’ The man’s got no idea. As someone whose ancestors worked in the shade of an oak tree for the last five hundred years, I’d like my country back please.

  • BigAl

    Sounds like a two tier system to me……..

  • TomTom

    Please get politicians out of Education. It is a disaster with schools that simply do not teach to exam curricula and classrooms without discipline. It must be a nightmare for pupils in this chaotic pit created by politicians. Inner Resignation must be commonplace. How did these string puppets get to tell us what they will do to us ?

  • Paul

    Perhaps MiliE will give us a new grade for GCSEs – A**?

  • HooksLaw

    Please do not make me laugh. So after 13 years of labour we have a labour leader saying that they ‘forgot’ over 50% of the pupil population? What were GCSE’ after all? Does he think that simply changing a GCSE into a baccalaureate will change anything?

    This is beyond waffle, it’s just so much bollox as to defy comment. But it is quite frankly a smear on those who took exams and did not go to university during the labour years.

    13 years of labour and they have discovered apprenticeships? What makes labour think that their lost 52% want a technical education? Are they going to select at 14 who takes the Techbacc?

  • John_Page

    More exams. Oh good. What about the kids who are desperate to get out of school?

    • Dimoto

      The vast majority of the “forgotten 60%” are completely incapable of doing Maths to 18. The usual Labour solution will be to dumb down the exams, and keep dumbing down until everyone can pass.

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