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The BBC's Mike Baker
"Giving pupils a choice"
 real 56k

Wednesday, 24 January, 2001, 14:05 GMT
Blunkett pushes learning for work
student pouring molten metal
Some study would be in workplaces
The government aims to make skills needed for jobs a mainstream part of teaching in secondary schools.

I appeal today to business people to back us in that endeavour, to take young people on as apprentices and to work with schools and colleges

David Blunkett
The Education Secretary, David Blunkett, has said that "a British disease" has been the neglect of vocational and technical education.

In a speech at the Institute of Economic Affairs, he said he wanted to enable young people to develop skills which would allow them to work in engineering, computer technology and traditional crafts such as plumbing, gas fitting and engineering.

catering trainees
New GCSEs will cater for industry's needs
New, vocational GCSEs being introduced in secondary schools from 2002, at a cost of 38m, will mean that 14 to 16 year olds can opt to pursue work-related skills - studying part time in workplaces.

They will still have to take the core academic subjects of English and maths.

Mr Blunkett said: "The government is determined that young people who want a career based on vocational and technical skills should be able to choose predominantly vocational programmes of study from age 14, including progression to an apprenticeship at age 16.

Asking businesses to help

"We will strengthen and clarify the vocational pathways available for 14 to 16 year olds so that this can happen.

Must not lead to a two-tier system within our schools nor a return to grammar and secondary schools

Teachers' union leader Doug McAvoy
"I appeal today to business people to back us in that endeavour, to take young people on as apprentices and to work with schools and colleges to bring vocational education into the mainstream where it belongs."

The new GCSEs, first announced last July, will replace the current General National Vocational Qualifications (GNVQs).

The most popular subjects in which pupils gained GNVQ qualifications last summer were business, health and social care, information technology, and leisure and tourism - rather than engineering, construction, catering or manufacturing.

'Two-tier system' warnings

Teachers' unions have broadly welcomed the thrust of Mr Blunkett's speech.

But the general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association, John Dunford, said: "One-off announcements like today's will not solve the problem created by the historic divide between academic and vocational courses in Britain.

"We need a coherent, unified structure bringing the two together and ending the second-class status of vocational qualifications."

The general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, Doug McAvoy, said: "If the change means that more students can mix and match academic and vocational qualifications that is to the good, but it must not lead to a two-tier system within our schools nor a return to grammar and secondary schools.

He said school-industry links exist already and were greatly valued, but teachers faced an uphill struggle to find appropriate opportunities for work experience for their pupils.


"In addition, given the uneven distribution of different types of industry in this country, young people's opportunities would also be constrained simply because of where they lived."

Kay Driver, leader of the Professional Association of Teachers, said: "There is still a long way to go to recognise non-academic pupils' achievements.

"These pupils are still all too often written off, or see themselves as written off, as failures because the system recognises only academic success."

Colleges concerned

The Association of Colleges, representing the bulk of the further education colleges, said they were concerned that dropping foundation level GNVQs would remove the essential first step to success for young people who do not like school qualifications.

Part of the changes involve replacing national traineeships - which lead on to modern apprenticeships - with new, "foundation apprenticeships".

These will offer a vocational alternative for those who lack the academic ability to tackle vocational GCSEs, and will be a way on to new, "advanced apprenticeships".

Mr Blunkett said students should be able to start them at the age of 14, rather than 16 as at present. If that required changing employment law, that should be done.

BBC education correspondent Mike Baker says the proposals could mean a significant change in secondary education.

But he says it is not the first attempt of its kind, and previous efforts have ended in failure.

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See also:

06 Jul 00 | Education
Vocational GCSEs target disaffected
27 Jun 00 | Education
Pledge to boost skills
04 Nov 99 | Education
Vocational exams gain in popularity
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