THE Labour Party’s education chief gave the thumbs up to vocational course offered by Stafford College on a recent visit to the county town.
Shadow Secretary of State for Education, Stephen Twigg, came to the college alongside Stafford’s new parliamentary candidate Kate Godfrey to talk with local business leaders about the challenge of providing young people with the best possible opportunities for training and education.
Mr Twigg said the vocational opportunities offered by establishments like Stafford College were "vitally important."
“What we’ve been talking to employers about is one of the biggest challenges we have; to improve the quality of apprenticeships for young people,” he said. “We've got a million young people unemployed and we’ve got to make sure we get that down.
“We shouldn't do that with quick cheap schemes,” he said. “We've got to do it with schemes that give young people jobs in the long term and it's been great here at Stafford College to hear about some of the brilliant apprenticeship partnerships there are with local engineering firms, with hair and beauty firms, with catering and with a whole range of different areas where there's the potential for work in the future.”
Mr Twigg said Labour leader Ed Milliband talked about the ‘forgotten 50 per cent’ at this year’s party conference, reflecting that when the party was in power they rightly expanded higher education, but didn’t focus as much as they should have on young people taking different routes into employment.
“So alongside a continued commitment to higher education we want to make sure there is better vocational education and I think that has to start in schools,” said Mr Twigg. “It can't start at 16, it's got to start at a younger age, and I'm very worried Michael Gove’s direction of policy is away from technical subjects to an exclusively academic approach that doesn't meet the needs of all young people.”
He said he was meeting business leaders all over the country to try to determine an alternative to the Government’s current plans which would involve a lot of consultation and engagement with young people, business and with the world of education.
"I think there are a number of key principles, the first is absolutely vital, that every young person has a grounding in the fundamentals of English and Mathematics,” he said. “I heard today that too many young people leave the system without those basics.”
He proposed every young person should continue learning English or Maths until the age of 18.
"Secondly there's an alphabet soup of different vocational qualifications, some of them are really good, but not all of them are and we want to make sure that young people doing are doing the very best and they are qualifications that can actually lead into a quality apprenticeship,” he said. “Thirdly we need to increase both the supply and quality of apprenticeships.
“Time and again I hear of things being badged as apprenticeships that aren't what I would call a proper apprenticeship, people doing a 12-week course and being told that they have got apprenticeships.”
“In terms of schools it's about maintaining a broad curriculum so that subjects like design technology, and product design are seen as important subjects in the curriculum,” he said. “With the Governments proposal of an English Baccalaureate, subjects like that get crowded out of the curriculum.”
“There's a moral reason if you like, that we want children to get a broad education, but there's also actually a very hard edged economic argument that lots of jobs in the future are in engineering, they're in the creative industries and if you're not doing vocational subjects and you're not doing creative subjects, you're actually going to be at an economic disadvantage.”
Mr Twigg said Stafford College were setting a strong benchmark, offering proper apprenticeships leading to jobs.
“I've had a very positive sense from my visit here today,” said Mr Twigg. “This is a new build the college has funded and it’s clearly providing an excellent service.”
Photographs by Jon Thorne