Across British politics, there is a recognition that technical and vocational education has been
badly neglected. The Government has recently made this one of its core priorities, via the
introduction of T-levels for students aged 16 and over and new Institutes of Technology. This is particularly urgent, given our imminent departure from the European Union. According to the UK Commission for Employment and Skills, 43% of vacancies in skilled trades/occupations were due to skills shortages in 2015, and an additional 3.6 million vacancies in mid-level skilled occupations, such as advanced manufacturing, are predicted to arise by 2022.
Yet the existing technical and vocational schools are close to collapse. The University
Technical Colleges (UTCs) and studio schools that are meant to provide this type education for 14-19 year-olds have become dumping grounds for children struggling in mainstream schools. As a result, they are languishing at the bottom of the league tables and struggling to fill their places. Nearly a third of those opened since 2011 have already closed.
I've just written a report for the Centre for Policy Studies that identifies a key problem that has hobbled technical and vocational education in Britain for more than 100 years and proposes a radical solution. In the report, ‘Technically Gifted’, I argue that we must break the Gordian Knot linking technical education to academic failure by allowing these schools to select their pupils according to aptitude for their occupational specialisms, instead of being forced to take those rejected by their mainstream neighbours as not bright enough to cope with the ‘common core’ of academic GCSEs. Rather than thinking of technical and vocational schools as second best for children of below average ability, as they have been since the beginning of the 20th Century, we should regard them as schools of opportunity for children of all abilities who have a particular flair for this type of education. And the pupils at these schools should still be expected to do the ‘common core’, thereby ensuring they don’t become an ‘alternative pathway’ for those who cannot cope with a broad and balanced curriculum.