Schools will soon be able to offer GCSEs in engineering and manufacturing under government plans to introduce new vocational qualifications.
The GCSEs, to be introduced in 2002, are an attempt by the Department for Education and Employment to remove the stigma attached to vocational courses in schools.
It is hoped the initiative will plug the technical skills gap currently hurting industry by providing an additional rung in the vocational learning ladder. A recent report by the National Skills Task Force revealed that while overall demand for technicians and craft workers in manufacturing is falling, the need for these workers to have higher skills levels is rising.
The new qualifications, which will replace foundation, intermediate and part one GNVQs – the existing vocational qualifications – will complement government plans for vocational A-levels and two-year foundation degrees. Speaking at the recent Skills Show in Birmingham, Education Secretary David Blunkett said the initiative would also help tackle truancy in schools by providing young people with an opportunity to leave the classroom and obtain useful training in industry.
Dr Michael Sanderson, chief executive of the Engineering and Marine Training Authority, said he was broadly supportive of the idea. `I would support any initiative which can move vocational qualifications towards a parity of esteem with academic qualifications,’ he said.
However, the Engineering Employers’ Federation was more cautious in its response to the scheme. Ann Bailey, EEF head of education and training, said while the organisation would support any scheme that introduced manufacturing and engineering skills into schools, the government must recognise that these subjects require more specialist resources than other disciplines. The current shortage of skilled design and technology teachers, as well as a lack of adequate equipment and materials to work with, would make the new courses more difficult to teach effectively than other more straightforward courses such as business studies or information technology.
`If the government is going to be converting existing GNVQs into the new GCSEs, it must recognise that the teachers of these engineering GNVQs are already teaching under very difficult conditions,’ she said.
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