Education & Family

Ofsted warns on poor vocational choices

Sir Michael Wilshaw
Image caption Sir Michael Wilshaw says decades of complaints about vocational education have still to deliver results

Vocational options for teenagers should be much better so the talents of non-academic pupils are not wasted, says Ofsted chief Sir Michael Wilshaw.

The education watchdog warns of a "one-size fits all" model in England which leaves behind young people who do not succeed in exams.

Better vocational training would reduce youth unemployment, says Sir Michael.

"We simply have to improve the quality of our technical provision," insists the Ofsted chief.

The Department for Education says pupils are now "better prepared for further study and more ready for the world of work".

Sir Michael says that complaints about the quality of vocational education have been made for 50 years, but without sufficient improvement

"I can almost sense eyes glazing over when I say this," he says.

But he argues that it is a "moral imperative as well as an economic one that we do something now to change direction".

Sir Michael says there must not be another "false dawn" in improving vocational options and "the country cannot continue to fail half its future".

He warns that vocational training should not be a "dumping ground for the disaffected and cater just for the lower-ability youngsters".

The Ofsted chief says that some European countries, such as Germany and Switzerland, had lower youth unemployment rates because of a better training system.

This reflects a recent survey from City and Guilds that showed how the most developed vocational systems were linked to better rates of youth employment.

Image copyright Thinkstock
Image caption Bright sparks: Improved vocational training is linked to lower youth unemployment

At present, Sir Michael says the education system in England does not offer enough opportunities for those who do not succeed at GCSEs.

"The statistics show that those who fail to achieve the required grades in maths and English at 16 make little or no progress in further education colleges two years later," says the Ofsted head.

"Preparation for employment remains poor and careers guidance in both schools and colleges is uniformly weak."

Sir Michael's speech, responding to the Centre Forum think tank proposals to raise standards, also raises the question of who is responsible for the oversight of schools when some are academies, under the scrutiny of regional schools commissioners, and others the responsibility of local authorities.

He accuses the current system of being "confusing and ill-defined".

But Sir Michael says such problems are within the context of a school system that had greatly improved.

"People forget how bad things were in the miserable decades of the 70s, 80s and 90s," he says.

"They forget how many children were failed by political neglect, misguided ideologies, weak accountability and low expectations.

"They forget how local authorities failed to challenge and support head teachers. They forget how much they conceded to vested interests and how infrequently they championed the rights of children to a decent education."

A Department for Education spokesman said: "We know that young people benefit from studying a strong academic core of subjects up until the age of 16 which they can complement with additional arts subjects or vocational qualifications.

"That's why we are making the EBacc the expectation for every child who is able.

"Our reforms are leaving pupils better prepared for further study and more ready for the world of work, with the result that we now have the lowest number of Neets on record and the highest ever number of young people going into higher education."

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