During the last decade there has been a welcome shift in Government policy towards post-16 education with less focus on pushing every young person towards university and more focus on providing a wider range of options. High quality apprenticeships and technical qualifications have been made a priority and I have been pleased to support excellent local training providers here in Central Devon (such as the Focus Training Group in Heathfield).
This is not to discourage anyone from applying to university – I am proud that the UK has some of the best universities in the world (with 4 ranked in the world’s top 15). In fact, over the years I have organised several trips for local sixth form pupils (including from South Dartmoor Community College) to Oxford University to encourage our young people to aim high and apply to the best universities if that is their goal. But university is not the best option for everyone and one of my first roles in Westminster was as a ministerial aide in the Business Department where I helped to double the number of young people embarking on apprenticeships. The headline statistics remain remarkable – 4 in 5 employers report improvements in productivity after taking on an apprentice and 9 in 10 employers take on their apprentice after they finish their course.
Last September the Government went a step further and introduced the first T-Level (Technical-Level) qualifications. More courses will be available from this September. T-Levels are the equivalent of three A-Levels and combine classroom study with industry placements, with students spending at least 45 days (or 315 hours) with an employer.
On Thursday further forms to post-16 education were announced that will build on this progress and simplify the system. After looking at what works well in other countries and consulting with the education sector, the options that young people have after their GCSEs will be made clearer. The reforms will create two paths for people who have completed GCSEs – an academic path (meaning qualifications that primarily lead to further study) and a technical path (meaning qualifications that primarily lead to skilled employment). Courses that are essentially duplicates of other courses will be scrapped and all courses will be vetted more vigorously to ensure they deliver high-quality training. The results will be greater consistency in the courses and qualifications that employers can really trust.
It is also important that access to post-16 education is not limited to those who have just completed their GCSEs. We need people of all ages to have access to training opportunities, particularly since the Covid-19 pandemic is likely to reshape our economy. Around 400 free courses are available to adults without A-levels (or equivalent qualification) and I would urge anyone wanting to retrain or improve their skillset to check them out. I have compiled some useful links at www.melstridemp.com/reskillnow.
We will not be able to hold onto every job of the past, but by providing high-quality apprenticeships and training opportunities we can better prepare for the jobs of the future.