Ruth Gilbert, chair, Career Colleges Trust
As a sector, we have been working hard for many years to raise the parity of esteem between vocational or technical qualifications, and academic qualifications.
Progress has undoubtedly been made, with the government recognising the important part that apprenticeships and technical education must play in the country’s post-Covid 19 economic recovery and highlighting the vital role of colleges in this.
The development and introduction of T Levels in 2020 has also been a clear nod towards the recognition of the value of high-level technical skills. They are a much-needed addition to the qualification landscape, putting technical skills on a par with the “gold standard” A-level.
But we must never forget that the purpose of education is to give people the skills they need to get a good and meaningful job.
This takes more than simply stripping out qualifications and requires a much more holistic approach aligned with the future of our industry and economy.
Rather than focusing on the quantity of qualifications, the government should recognise it is the quality of curriculum content and delivery that is the key thing to get right.
So the question now is what should become of the plethora of other vocational qualifications offered by colleges, learning providers and sixth forms around the country?
This is, of course, a difficult question and one that the Department for Education is quite rightly consulting on.
Having worked in FE for many years, I strongly believe that giving students a clear line of sight to work must be at the heart of every post-16 course and qualification.
To do this, employers and HE institutions need to recognise the value of the various education pathways – with an understanding of the competencies a particular qualification will develop.
An A-level grade, for instance, is instantly recognisable, providing the employer or university with an understanding of a student’s ability and knowledge.
All vocational qualifications need to carry this same “assumed” value, a value which will ultimately come from impact. Employers must expressly endorse and reference T Level entry to the workplace.
FE and HE providers must embrace more flexible delivery that is accessible while learners work, including degree apprenticeships and part-time HE options.
We also need universities to also recognise T levels, for parity of opportunity with A levels, on HE progression.
And industry must also drive the development of new qualifications and modifications. The world of work moves quickly and qualifications must keep up.
Here at the Career Colleges Trust we have just created a new level 2 and 3 qualification in Logistics and International Supply Chain Management, through a collaboration with seven FE colleges, a Rotterdam-based learning provider and several logistics employers.
A T Level in this area is also needed to provide a clear point of higher entry for young people who know relatively little about this growing sector – illustrating exactly how different qualifications can co-exist successfully to meet industry need.
We should not forget BTECs and other awarding body certification, often recognised as “the standard” for specific industries. The question we have to ask is “are they still current and is there an alternative that better prepares students for work/progression?”
The second government consultation must make currency of qualifications king.
Seeking out new industries and opportunities has never been so important for our economy so this is a perfect time to consider our portfolio of technical qualifications.