UK government pledges fundamental reform of technical education

Following an independent review of technical education in the UK, the government has today unveiled ground-breaking plans to create new post-GCSE options aimed at encouraging more young people to consider a career in engineering.

Based based on recommendations made by a panel led by Lord Sainsbury, the proposed reforms have been hailed by the Royal Academy of Engineering as the most significant transformation of post-16 education since A levels were introduced 70 years ago.

Lord Sainsbury’s review found that young people considering a technical education today must choose between more than 20,000 courses provided by 160 different organisations. A young person wanting to pursue an engineering career faces a choice of 501 different courses.

The review recommends simplifying the current system so that technical education is provided through 15 routes, with standards set by industry professionals. Several of these routes would provide skilled recruits for the engineering profession, including engineering and manufacturing, digital, transport and logistics, and construction.

Acting on the review’s recommendations the government has today published a Post-16 Skills plan that pledges to implement all of the Sainsbury panel’s proposals where budgets allow.

The plan will enable students to choose whether to take technical or academic qualifications after their GCSEs. Those opting for a technical route will be able to choose between a two-year college course – with standards and content led by employers – or an apprenticeship.

Both the findings of the report and the government’s response have been welcomed across industry. Calling on industry and education to work together to implement the report’s recommendations Tim Thomas, Director of Employment and Skills Policy at EEF said: “The report rightly highlights the need for technical education to meet the needs of employers. Manufacturers want a skills system that is as responsive to their needs as they are to their customers, yet this has failed to be delivered to date. The current system is overcrowded with qualifications, many of which remain unused.”

Meanwhile, Engineering UK Chief Executive, Paul Jackson said the proposed introduction of a ‘transition year’ to give young people the opportunity to focus on bringing their skills in key areas up to the required standard is particularly welcome, and called for government funding to support a wider scale initiative along these lines.

Professor Dame Ann Dowling, President of the Royal Academy of Engineering commented: we stand ready to support government in identifying the necessary knowledge, practical skills and behaviours required across the engineering, construction and IT sectors to inform the new technical education landscape.”

According to the government the first of the new technical education routes will be made available from September 2019 and all routes will have been introduced by September 2022.

Lack of industry knowledge and experience was flagged as priority concern in The Engineer’s 2016 salary, with 51.2% of respondents claiming that it was the biggest issue affecting industry.

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