Sir Michael Wilshaw has challenged employers to play a greater part in the provision of vocational education at a speech to the CBI in Cambridge.

Calling for a parity of esteem between traditional academic routes and vocational training, Sir Michael said:

“We are at a watershed moment in the history of our education system. The economy is improving, jobs are more plentiful, and there is cross-party agreement on the need for more high-quality apprenticeships.

‘We, therefore, have never had a better opportunity to tackle our lamentable record on vocational education but only if we seize this moment and only if employers play their part.’

Welcoming recent initiatives to improve the quality of vocational education, Sir Michael went on to outline what more could be done to help the English approach match that of countries such as Germany, Switzerland and Norway.

He set out four priorities.

  • Apprenticeships must have parity of esteem with A levels. They must be sold aggressively to schools, parents and young people. That means that the quality of careers information and guidance must be raised substantially.
  • High quality vocational education must be readily available to all pupils in the same way academic education is. It should be seen as a valid option for every student, not as the consolation prize for those who cannot do anything else.
  • Employer engagement must be at the forefront of any reform.
  • All vocational training must give a clear line of sight to work.

Highlighting how changes to educational structures could be harnessed to secure improvements in the vocational offer, Sir Michael added:

‘We don’t need to start from scratch but we do need to build on the pioneering work done by some schools and colleges.

‘We’ve seen the good work already happening in clusters – led by good or outstanding schools and colleges. That trend to federation should be encouraged. I know if I were leading a cluster of schools, I would make sure they had strong links to Local Enterprise Partnerships or chambers of commerce. I’d affiliate the schools to specific industries depending on local demand.

‘Pupils at all the schools in the cluster would have access to high quality vocational training from 14, including those who are typically deemed “academic high achievers”. Students on either path would be free to access the specialist teaching available in the other and would not be stuck in one route. Let me stress this isn’t about selection at 14 it’s about maximum opportunity at 14.’

Appealing to business leaders and employer organisations, Sir Michael stressed the need for more support and advice to be offered to smaller business to ensure they are able to access the training options available to them. And he set out his challenge to employers to look at their work force and consider three questions:

  • Don’t you, as employers, have a moral and long-term economic imperative to train people here rather than recruit from abroad however tempting that might be? Couldn’t you do more?
  • Secondly, how much do you do to make young people in schools aware of all the different types of work in your company? Have you made a sustained effort to engage with schools and colleges and let them know what opportunities you offer?
  • And finally what would it take to turn a job vacancy into an apprenticeship? It’s easy to bemoan the lack of qualified youngsters, but what are you doing imaginatively to help solve that problem?

Responding to the speech, Neil Carberry, CBI Director for Employment and Skills policy, said:

“Sir Michael is right to call for reform of vocational education to ensure that these qualifications are as well regarded as traditional academic courses by both parents and students. Part of the solution is to expand access to high-quality apprenticeships and other ‘learn while you earn’ routes to higher skills.

“Businesses support schools and colleges in many different ways, but can do more. We know that the more interactions young people have with the workplace, the better prepared they are for life outside school and college.

“We want all businesses to increase their engagement with schools, but this cannot just be laid at the door of firms alone. The Government must do more and start by reintroducing work experience for Years 10 and 11.”


Apprentices and School Leavers Conference 2014