A Labour Government would carry out the biggest shake-up of vocational education for a generation to create a "gold standard" qualification for the young people who do not go to university Ed Miliband will say.
The 50% of 16 to 18-year-olds who do not progress to higher education will receive a qualification which be the equivalent to A-levels, the Labour leader will say on Tuesday.
The Technical Baccalaureate - or TechBacc - would be awarded at 18 to youngsters who complete a programme of work experience, school-based vocational training and academic courses in English and Maths. It would be coupled with a major boost in apprenticeships to provide a pathway to success for the "forgotten 50%" whose needs have been neglected by successive governments.
In a highly personal keynote speech to the Labour conference in Manchester, Miliband will draw on his own memories of comprehensive schooling in north London and speak about classmates failed by the education system because they were not suited to academic exams and university.
"For years and years, our party has focused on those young people who go to university. And that matters," Miliband will say.
"But it's time now to focus on those who don't go to university. The young people who are too often the forgotten 50%.
"We cannot succeed if we can have an education system which only works for half the country."
And he will add: "In the 21st century everyone should be doing some form of education up to 18, not 16. That gives us the chance and the obligation to develop a new system from 14 to 18, in particular, for vocational qualifications.
"I want a curriculum that is rigorous and relevant with English and Maths up to 18, not 16, culminating in a new technical baccalaureate at 18 based on gold standard qualifications.
"I want ours to be a country where kids aspire not just to go to Oxford and Cambridge but to excellent technical colleges and elite vocational institutions.
"We need to do what we haven't done in decades: build a culture in our country where vocational qualifications are not seen as second-class certificates but for what they can be - a real route on and up to quality apprenticeships and jobs."
Under Labour's plans, businesses would be given control of the £1bn-a-year government funding for apprenticeships, coming together in regional or sectoral groups to buy the training they need.
The civil service would introduce a fast track route for apprentices similar to the one already in place for graduates, and government contracts would be awarded on the condition that the firms involved are providing apprenticeships.
Senior Labour sources said no target was being set for the number of extra apprentices, but experience from Germany suggested that it could deliver 100,000 more posts.
Miliband will seek to draw a contrast between his TechBacc plan and the EBacc qualification proposed by Education Secretary Michael Gove, which Labour believes threatens to revive two-tier academic exams at 16.
Arguing that EBaccs will replicate the old system of O-levels and CSEs which "just wrote a whole set of people off", Miliband will say: "We don't want to go back to that."
And he will accuse Gove of having "contempt for vocational qualifications (and) nothing to say about education beyond 16".
Miliband will say: "He is stuck in the past, offering no vision for the 21st century.
"There is a choice of two futures for education. The Tory plan for an education system designed for a narrower and narrower elite. Or our plan."
Miliband's decision to talk about his own schooldays at Haverstock Comprehensive in the 1980s - complete with "the scariest headmistress you can imagine, Mrs Jenkins" - appears designed to provide a contrast with David Cameron's education at the exclusive private school Eton.
"I went to my local school with people from all backgrounds," Miliband will say. "I still remember the motivation, the inspiration from some amazing teaching...
"My school taught us a lot more than just how to pass exams: it taught people how to get on with each other, whoever they are and wherever they were from.
"I will always be grateful, because I know I would not be standing here today as leader of the Labour Party without my comprehensive school education."
After his deputy Harriet Harman's admission at the weekend that many voters still "do not know" Miliband, the Labour leader will use his speech to fill out his personal story, recalling his childhood as the son of Jewish refugees from the Nazis and his birth at the same NHS hospital where his sons were born.
And he will expand on ideas set out over the weekend to rein in the "casino culture" in the banks and encourage long-term investment in business.
A government source responded: "We are replacing discredited GCSEs with tougher new exams and moving control of A-Levels from politicians to universities.
"Miliband will continue to devalue exams, con people with false statistics, and leave millions of state school pupils unemployable.
"We have increased funding for apprenticeships and given teachers the power to strengthen discipline which Miliband opposes."
The source said that Mr Gove had made clear in a speech in June 2011 that he wanted to move towards universal maths for all children up to the age of 18. Further announcements on implementing this goal will be made "shortly", said the source.
Former Labour transport secretary Lord (Andrew) Adonis said there was a "real sense of urgency" due to a "crisis" in youth unemployment.
He told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme: "We have a million under-24s out of work, we have one in five of all young people out of work, and I think, at the same time as that happens, employers are saying that they are finding it difficult to recruit enough school leavers with good enough skills, including literacy and numeracy skills.
"I think that will concentrate the minds of all politicians, which is the reason why Ed Miliband today is talking about what he will describe as the forgotten 50%, the 50% not going on to university who need high-grade technical skills of a kind, let's be frank, we simply haven't done a good enough job as a society of equipping them with in the past."
Lord Adonis added that at the moment apprenticeships were "simply not being created" and Labour wanted to see that "employers are in the driving seat".
He said: "At the moment the state is very poor at creating apprenticeships, the Business Department itself has precisely one apprentice under the age of 21. If the Government doesn't give a lead, how can it expect the private sector to follow?"
Umunna, who was privately educated, denied claims that the Labour leader was using his schooling as a form of "class warfare".
He told BBC Radio 5 Live Breakfast: "This isn't part of any class warfare at all and, frankly, the people who have been seeking to personalise this have been the Tories.
"I don't think David Cameron having been to Eton should preclude Ed from being able to talk about what school he went to, where he's from, what his background is."
Umunna also said he was "open minded" about shadow defence secretary Jim Murphy's suggestion that Britain should stage an in/out referendum on membership of the European Union once the current crisis in the economy is over.
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