Vocational skills need to be improved, say the Tories
The Conservatives are promising a new type of "technical school" in 12 cities across England if they are elected.
These secondary schools, funded from the Academy budget, would be dedicated to engineering and science and would be linked to businesses and universities.
They would provide "credible, high quality vocational education," said Tory schools spokesman, Michael Gove.
The NASUWT teachers' union attacked the plans as dividing pupils, with a "sheep and goat mentality".
The Conservatives, meeting for their party conference in Manchester, are setting out plans for specialist vocational schools to be located in the 12 biggest cities in England.
These schools, which pupils could enter from the age of 14, would be intended to raise the status of technical subjects, with the involvement of industrial sponsors.
Promoting the idea of technical schools, the Conservatives have accused the government of failing in its efforts to develop vocational education.
In particular they criticise the new 14-19 Diploma qualifications, which are intended to bridge the divide between academic and vocational education.
The Conservatives say the first wave of Diplomas has been characterised by low take-up and poor results - and that employers are "sceptical" about their value.
The Conservatives also say that they will re-direct funding intended to promote Diplomas to create more apprenticeships instead.
"Our new technical schools will provide credible, high quality vocational education in each major city," said Mr Gove.
"We will also triple the number of Young Apprenticeship places to 30,000 and remove the cap that stops state schools offering these places. This is crucial to tackling youth unemployment and recovering from the recession."
The government said that there were already plans for "university technical colleges" and accused the Conservatives of damaging the development of vocational education.
"If the Tories were serious about supporting high quality vocational learning, they would not have spent the summer attacking vocational qualifications as second class," said Apprenticeships Minister Iain Wright.
"Instead of wanting to end the damaging old divide between academic and vocational learning, the Tories want to turn back the clock and abolish our new Diploma qualifications, which combine practical and theoretical learning."
The proposals for dedicated technical schools were criticised by Chris Keates, the general secretary of the NASUWT - who argued that they would increase "segregation" between academic and vocational paths.
"These technical schools fail the test of ensuring parity of esteem between academic and vocational learning.
"Over 95% of all current secondary schools have a specialism and are inclusive of all young people regardless of the career they wish to pursue.
"Segregating vocational courses risks marginalising vocational education and the young people whose talents and skills are best served by this learning pathway.
The National Union of Teachers also accused the Conservatives of planning to "pigeonhole" youngsters.
"No young person benefits from early differentiation between vocational and academic routes. We need to get rid of that invidious divide," said general secretary, Christine Blower.