In September, Lord Baker made a welcome and timely contribution to the skills debate. The Tory peer said he believed young people were not being taught the right skills to be competitive in the domestic and global jobs markets, and that attitudes among policy-makers towards vocational and skills-based learning needed to change.
Lord Baker, who was Education Secretary during the Thatcher years, is now chairman of the Edge Foundation which recently published its 14-19 Education: A New Baccalaureate report. The study expressed concern at the narrow range of subjects being taught as part of the EBacc, and how this was unsuitable for many students. Furthermore, it said it did not equip young people for the workplace, nor was it likely to boost the Prime Minister’s drive to improve social mobility.
Writing in Schools Week to coincide with the report’s publication, Lord Baker said: “Edge believes the Ebacc needs to be broader to allow for creative and technical subjects like design and technology, computing, art or music. The view that ‘technical’ and ‘vocational’ education has less value or is for those who fail academically has persisted for too long in the UK.
“We are very much in the minority in Europe; many of our economic competitors combine practical learning with the necessary academic disciplines. In Germany, Austria, Switzerland and the Netherlands, 70-80% of students have experienced technical education, while in Britain it is only 30%. No wonder that all these countries have lower youth unemployment than we do.”
With the benefit of hindsight, perhaps, he also expressed regrets about his own policy-making while in government. Lord Baker admitted that, when he implemented the national curriculum in the 1980s, he should have ended it at the age of 14 to allow the learning of a wider range of subjects. He said a ‘narrow minded’ view persisted among policy makers that technical and vocational education was for lower achievers and observed that the countries with the lowest youth unemployment and the most highly skilled workforce were those ‘where technical subjects are studied side-by-side with academic subjects’.
The conflict over parity of esteem between the academic and vocational is, of course, nothing new and has pervaded all sections of our education system for decades. We need to stop the second-class mentality that surrounds vocational and skills-based subjects and ensure that every pupil receives a rounded, balanced education regardless of ability. ASDAN believes that a wide range of skills including teamwork, critical thinking, initiative and good communication are needed by all young people, even academic high fliers.
As a major provider of skills-based qualifications and learning programmes, ASDAN has fully supported the creation of a National Baccalaureate for England (NBfE) – a curriculum framework that would give credit to all aspects of a child’s learning. This would include formal qualifications, a personal development programme and an extended personal project. ASDAN believes it has a role to play in providing study programmes and accreditation to aspects of learning which are often under-valued, such as employability skills.
In this fast moving world, our education system must ensure young people receive the right balance of academic and vocational skills so that the economy thrives in the 21st century. Lord Baker has admitted his mistakes. Today’s government could do worse than learn from them.
ASDAN's courses can help provide a broad curriculum for learners. Our qualifications such as the Award of Personal Effectiveness and the Certificate of Personal Effectiveness help learners develop key soft skills such as problem solving, improving your own learning and performance and communication.