'Tech Bacc' aims to boost status of vocational courses
Plans to raise the status of vocational courses in sixth forms and colleges in England have been announced.
A "technical baccalaureate" is to be introduced showing young people's abilities in maths, literacy and a high level vocational qualification.
This will be a performance measure for schools and evidence of credible skills for students to show employers.
Skills minister Matthew Hancock said the technical baccalaureate would be a "mark of achievement".
But Labour's education spokesman Stephen Twigg said: "Seven months after Labour announced plans for a technical baccalaureate, the government is today trying to catch up."
The "Tech Bacc", launched on Monday by Mr Hancock and Education Secretary Michael Gove, is intended to reinforce the value of technical and vocational training and qualifications taken by 16 to 19-year-olds.
It is aimed at teenagers who might want qualifications for jobs in areas such as information technology, construction, retail, hospitality and digital media.
It will not be another separate qualification, but will be evidence that a young person has a particular set of employer-friendly skills.
The Tech Bacc will require students to have three elements - qualifications in maths and literacy and a "high quality" vocational qualification.
These vocational qualifications could be in anything from engineering to hairdressing, but will be taught at a level of difficulty which is meant to show that pupils are able to carry out "complex and non-routine" skills, on a par with A-levels.
These so-called Level 3 vocational qualifications were taken by about 185,000 students last year.
There is a consultation taking place to decide which vocational qualifications should be retained - after complaints that there were too many insubstantial qualifications, which carried little weight with employers.
For schools and colleges, the Tech Bacc will become a league table performance measure from 2017, in the way that schools are measured by the percentage of pupils who have achieved academic English Baccalaureate subjects.
A proposal for a Tech Bacc has previously been put forward by Labour's education spokesman, Stephen Twigg.
Responding to the government announcement, he said that Labour's version would have been a "gold standard" available to all pupils.
"David Cameron and Michael Gove have spent the last three years undermining technical education - damaging the quality of apprenticeships, downgrading the engineering diploma and narrowing the curriculum so skills are side-lined.
"The government should be judged on their actions so far, not on their words today."
The idea of a Tech Bacc has also been supported by former education ministers Labour's Lord Adonis and the Conservatives' Lord Baker.
Neil Carberry, the CBI's director for employment and skills said this was a "big step in the right direction".
"Including the Tech Bacc in existing league tables will help put vocational subjects on a par with academic A-levels.
"Business prefers this approach, rather than creating another new qualification which would struggle for recognition - like the Diploma did. We hope this will prove to be a staging point towards our ultimate goal of rigorous vocational A-levels."
Christine Blower, head of the National Union of Teachers, said that "vocational qualifications should be part of a wider 14-19 integrated system of education where the emphasis is on the opportunity to study general education, specialist areas and vocational learning. This constant tinkering with 14-19 education perpetuates unnecessary divisions."
Skills Minister Matthew Hancock said: "We want an education system in which everyone can reach their potential.
"Our reforms to post-16 qualifications, including the introduction of the new Tech Bacc will do that. They will incentivise the development of high-quality courses and incentivise schools and colleges to offer the courses that get young people on in life.
"We expect all bright students who want to go into technically-skilled jobs or apprenticeships to aim for the Tech Bacc."