Further education should stop being seen as a Cinderella service, Education Secretary Alan Johnson has said.
The government wants a focus on sharpening basic skills
At the launch of a quality improvement agency for post-16 education, he said the perception should be buried.
Instead, further education should be at the pinnacle of England's education system, an "engine for prosperity".
Mr Johnson repeated the government's call for colleges to focus on improving adult basic skills - and charge people more for "leisure" courses.
In keeping with the government's further education white paper, he argued in his speech that the priority must be areas that benefit society as a whole.
"We must rebalance taxpayer's money towards the subjects where there is greatest need," he said.
"So more plumbing, less pilates; subsidised precision engineering, not over-subsidised flower arranging, except of course where flower arranging is necessary for a vocational purpose.
"Tai chi may be hugely valuable to people studying it, but it's of little value to the economy." 'Professional'
He also sought to get across the message that "vocational" was "not a dirty word" - linked for too long with the idea that getting workplace skills is what young people do if they cannot manage more academic learning.
"I would be quite happy to lose the word 'vocational' completely from our school dictionaries if it was proved to deter people from taking these vital courses," he said.
"Perhaps we should replace 'vocational' with 'professional' - with its associations of prestige and prosperity.
"It is certainly worth thinking out of the box in an area where everyone agrees there is a problem but little of substance seems to change the cultural misconceptions."
There was a reminder that the government intends clamping down on failing institutions.
But his main aim was to talk up the sector.
"Cinderella is now dressed and ready to go to the ball. And the coach will not turn into a pumpkin at midnight," he said.
Rob Wye, director of strategy and communications at the Learning and Skills Council, which funds post-16 learning outside universities, said this was further recognition of the importance of the FE sector and "a ringing endorsement for all those involved in learning and skills".
"Vocational learning is critical to the success of individuals, businesses and communities across the country," he said.
"We are working in partnership with everyone in the sector to provide greater choice and even higher standards of learning for learners and employers to ensure we make the most of the talents and skills of people up and down the land."