New school-leaver's qualification planned by Labour

Examination The new Baccalaureate would give equal prestige to existing vocational and academic qualifications

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Labour would introduce a new school-leaver's qualification - a National Baccalaureate - that gives vocational and academic courses equal value.

The qualification would be made up of existing exams plus post-GCSE maths and English, skills training and an extended project.

The move is part of Labour's plans to tackle the one million teenagers out of employment, education and training.

The government has been talking about its own plans for vocational learning.

Publishing the recommendations of its skills taskforce, Labour said its new 14-to-19 qualification for England would end the reputational divide between academic and vocational qualifications.

Currently many educators see academic qualifications, such as A-Levels, pitched against vocational ones because young people have to choose one route or the other. But under this school leaver's qualification - academic and vocational exams would be given the same value.

Personal development

Under the plans, all students would study an intermediate GCSE-level Baccalaureate and then progress to a National Baccalaureate.

They would be able to study a Technical Bacc based on an existing post-GCSE vocational qualifications or a General Bacc based on A-levels as they stand. Either route would have the same value.

They would also be required to have post-GCSE (or level 3) English and maths, undertake a personal skills development programme and carry out an extended project.

Chris Husbands, chairman of the skills taskforce, said: "In Britain, we have a poor record of delivering high skills and effective qualifications for the forgotten 50%: the half of young people for whom the current qualifications regime simply does not deliver.

"The tragedy is that other countries do better. They have more efficient qualifications systems, better vocational education and strong routes through to the labour market."

Labour also sees an urgent need for schools to play a bigger part in tackling the problem of Neets - young people not in education, employment or training, by requiring them to monitor the destination of pupils when they leave.

'Overlooked'

It calls for an, as yet, unspecified amount of funding to be withheld from schools which fail to ensure their pupils do not drop out of education and training.

This money will be invested back into schools through partnerships with local business so that the problem is tackled in schools which produce high levels of Neets.

Shadow education secretary Tristram Hunt claimed the talents of "the forgotten 50% - those young people who wish to pursue a vocational route through education" were being overlooked by this government.

He said Labour would "deliver" for these pupils through a Technical Baccalaureate with rigorous vocational qualifications, requiring schools and colleges to collaborate to reduce Neets and transform careers advice by working with local employers.

"And under Labour, all young people will study maths and English to 18," he added.

Jan Hodges, chief executive of independent education charity, the Edge Foundation, said: "The National Baccalaureate would recognise these skills and abilities alongside technical and vocational qualifications and A-levels. It would give all young people something to aim for, and act as a springboard to apprenticeships, higher education and careers."

Local economy

Russell Hobby, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, welcomed much in the report, but added he was sceptical of the power of financial penalties to drive improvement because penalties may make it harder to correct problems.

"We agree that schools should know and care about where each student goes next and most take their duties to follow up on past pupils extremely seriously. They see their job as preparing young people for life not just for exams.

"However past students don't always stay in touch and possible destinations are shaped by the regional and national economies. This must be taken into account."

Labour said it planned to consult the teaching profession and exams regulator Ofqual about its plans to ensure they would work well.

It comes as Education Secretary Michael Gove made a speech encouraging more employers to get involved in the national apprenticeship programme.

But he also highlighted some of the government's reforms to vocational qualifications, saying he had begun the changes because he "wanted to take head on the idea that practical learning could never be as rigorous as academic".

He highlighted a government-commissioned report by Prof Alison Woolf which called "for proper equivalence between the practical and technical and the academic".

"That is why we changed the funding of education for students between the ages of 16 and 18 to make it equal for all, whatever qualifications and courses they took - overturning a status quo which favoured the purely academic.

"We also changed the demands we make of students after the age of 16, so all students - whether they are studying more practical or more academic courses - are increasingly expected to pursue maths beyond GCSE."

And he also highlighted changes which stripped recognition from what he described as "less rigorous" vocational qualifications and the introduction of vocationally-based tech levels and a Technical Baccalaureate from September.

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