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Should students have to choose between Miliband’s vocational and Gove’s academic qualifications?

PUBLISHED: 06:30 03 October 2012

Labour Party leader Ed Miliband speaks to delegates at Labour conference. Dave Thompson/PA Wire

Labour Party leader Ed Miliband speaks to delegates at Labour conference. Dave Thompson/PA Wire

Education leaders in Norfolk and Suffolk last night welcomed Labour leader Ed Miliband’s proposals to give vocational qualifications a higher status.

But they raised concerns that the plans could force young people to choose between vocational and academic study too early.

Mr Miliband gave his much-anticipated speech at the party conference in Manchester yesterday and revealed details of the new Technical Baccalaureate for 18-year-olds which he would introduce if Labour won the 2015 election.

He said the qualification would seek to better serve the “forgotten 50pc who do not go to university”.

He added: “We can’t be a country where vocational qualifications are seen as second class. They are a real route to apprenticeships and jobs. They can be as valuable to young people as a university degree. We need to make it so.”

Students would set out on a path towards the Tech Bacc at 14 and would combine vocational courses, work experience and compulsory English and maths to the age of 18.

Secondary school headteachers and further education college leaders both welcomed the idea of giving vocational studies a higher profile and status in the education system.

David Pomfret, principal at the College of West Anglia in King’s Lynn, said: “Many students taking vocational qualifications at college already go on to high quality careers or progress to higher education and it is important that we continue to show that vocational qualifications are not seen as second class certificates. In this regard, the concept of a technical baccalaureate is an interesting idea and I look forward to further clarification of the details of his plans.”

Penny Wycherley, principal at Great Yarmouth College, said Mr Miliband’s ideas reflected work already being done at the college to ensure students got practical knowledge and experience alongside core qualifications in English and maths.

She said it was right that should be recognised with an official qualification “people can respond to”.

The policy idea is in contrast to the path the coalition government has taken. Ministers seemed determined to move away from vocational courses, insisting “rigorous” academic subjects were the best option for all students.

Mr Miliband’s proposal seeks to offer an alternative view and an alternative option for students he said would be “written off” by Michael Gove’s plans for an academic English Baccalaureate at 16.

But Norfolk and Suffolk’s education leaders last night insisted it did not have to be one way or the other. They warned against proposals that forced students to choose between vocational and academic study too early.

Rob Anthony, associate headteacher at the Hewett School in Norwich, said: “There is a third way where you can value vocation qualifications, value academic qualifications, and allow students to take a blend of the two. That’s what I would like to see students be able to do.”

Jeremy Rowe, headteacher at Sir John Leman High School in Beccles, said it was “high time vocational qualifications were brought into line” with academic studies.

But he said he hoped Labour would include options to mix the two in the detail of the proposals.

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