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Monday, 22 July, 2002, 05:59 GMT 06:59 UK
More skilled pupils needed, say employers
Vocational training
The institute calls for more vocational training
England needs more plumbers and fewer media studies graduates, employers have said as they called for a radical shake-up of state education.

The Institute of Directors said the government should scrap its target that 50% of under-30s should go to university by 2010.

It said it would be much better to give many teenagers a vocational education, which would provide them with skills companies could use.

We need more plumbers and fewer media studies graduates

Institute of Directors
It also called for parents to be given vouchers which they could use to have their children educated privately if they chose.

IoD policy director Ruth Lea said she agreed with the prime minister that "one size fits all" comprehensives were not the answer.

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

From the age of 14, some pupils would continue to do a traditional academic education that would take them on to university.

Others would undergo rigorous training in skills vital to the nation's economic future, she said.

'Second best'

"It's quite blunt, it's old-fashioned selection," she said, but added that pupils who took the vocational route were not looked on as inferior in these other countries.

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.

IoD's key demands
Distinct academic and vocational "pathways" for 14-19s
Harder A-levels
Vouchers to fund education
Changes to "confusing" vocational GCSE/A-levels system

Education and training were two different things but there was a "reluctance" to accept that fact, she argued.

"We fear that that vocational GCSEs and A-Levels will be second best."

She added that employers suspected that A-Levels, traditionally the system's "gold standard", were now too easy.

Too often, students were sitting and resitting tests until they got the grades needed to do what was all too often an "inappropriate" degree, she claimed.

'Inappropriate degrees'

"The current obsession with sending as many young people as possible into higher education undermines vocational training by making it appear a "second best".

"This helps no one, least of all many students who study inappropriate higher education courses, and continues to put us at a disadvantage in the international vocational skills league tables.

Eight out of 10 jobs created in the next decade will require graduate level skills

Department for Education

"We need more plumbers and fewer media studies graduates."

Ms Lea said that state spending on school pupils should be given back to parents in the form of vouchers to spend at the school of their choice - state or private.

But Ms Lea said similar systems worked well in Denmark and the Netherlands, and the US state of Milwaukee.

Higher education minister Margaret Hodge said she was "astonished" by the institute's demands, as government targets had been based on "our best labour market forecasts."

Voucher debate

A Department for Education and Skills spokeswoman dismissed the IoD's call for the introduction of vouchers.

"We reject the voucher scheme system in favour of a fully-funded maintained comprehensive ideal where there is opportunity and attainment for all."

She added: "Our 50% target is underpinned by economic necessity - eight out of 10 jobs created in the next decade will require graduate level skills."

The government's recent Green Paper on 14-19 education was "expressly designed" to build parity of status between vocational and academic routes, she said.

It would allow students to follow "high quality" paths tailored to their aptitudes and talents, she added.

See also:

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