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The Government's Narrow and Old Fashioned Approach to Education is Letting Down Young People

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Yesterday, a national newspaper reported on Michael Gove's plans to require students to undertake voluntary work and a "contrasting subject" alongside their A Levels.

While I support moves to broaden exams at this stage and for pupils to do extended projects, the education secretary is still failing to take on some of the central issues facing our young people. Labour backs the concept of an A Bacc, though as ever, Michael Gove's formulation looks narrow and old fashioned.

This news demonstrates that, having spent the last two years focused on tinkering with exams at 16, Michael Gove is still failing to offer a plan that will benefit all young people, modernise our education system and prepare the next generation for both further study and the world of work.

After two years, the government still has no vision for tackling the big challenge we face in education today - the skills and qualifications all young people leave education with at 18.

At the Labour Party earlier this month, Labour announced a plan to equip all young people with skills, work experience and good standards in the English and maths up to 18. Our plan doesn't just cater for the 38% of young people who take three A levels, it also offers a rigorous and challenging education to those studying vocational qualifications - something that has been sorely lacking in our schools and colleges for too long.

Instead of meeting the needs of the modern economy and tackling the problems that face us today, Michael Gove is preoccupied with turning the clock back. Labour understands that real reform in secondary education is needed if we are to build a system that meets the needs of the 21st century, for two reasons.

Firstly, the economy is different now. The UK Commission for Employment and Skills predicts substantial growth in technical occupations in the years to come, as well as growing competition from across the world. The Institution of Engineering and Technology reports that an extra 200,000 engineering professionals will be needed by 2020 and that as well as good grades, young people need a range of employability skills relevant work experience. And the CBI, in its latest skills survey, found that 61% of firms say school and college leavers have not developed the skills they need for work. So we need an education that produces and promotes these skills and qualifications.

Secondly, the world is different now. From 2015, all young people will stay in education until 18. We need to design the best secondary system for all these young people, not just those doing A levels, and we need to give these young people good reasons to stay on. The international evidence, from Germany, Sweden and Switzerland, shows us that in these countries, far more young people are enrolled in quality vocational studies and are excelling as a result. It is remarkable that Michael Gove is sidelining vocational studies when our economy needs them most. It is also shocking that he is silent on what exactly he expects the majority of young people to do between 16 and 18 years of age when they will be required, by law, to remain in education.

Labour has set out its plans for more quality vocational education and more school-leaver apprenticeships for those young people who do not plan to go to university. Our technical baccalaureate will be awarded to young people achieving quality, challenging vocational qualifications, a relevant work experience placement and good standards of English and maths by 18.

Currently, too many young people are studying vocational qualifications that are sub-standard. Labour will add new rigour and accountability here by working with employers to accredit the very best qualifications that offer robust knowledge and skills and clear progression - only these gold standard qualifications will count towards our tech bacc.

The tech bacc will act as a passport into an apprenticeship for those not planning on going to university. It will go hand in hand with the creation of more apprentice places for school leavers, something this government is failing to deliver. This will ensure that, throughout their vocational education, young people have the motivation of a quality apprenticeship to go into at 18.

We will also take real action to improve standards in English and maths. Far too many young people, over 40%, are held back indefinitely because they lack basic knowledge of these subjects. And even our highest academic achievers too often lack good skills in English and maths. Estimates suggest poor literacy costs the UK workplace £10 billion a year through lost productivity and mistakes. We have to fix this. The government are simply planning to ask those who have failed their GCSEs to re-sit them but this doesn't go far enough. Under Labour, all young people will continue to study these subjects, regardless of their previous attainment, up to 18. Without this, we cannot expect our young people to compete in a global economy.

Our plans are now being taken forward in a review led by professor Chris Husbands, director of the Institute of Education and we will be announcing more details over the coming weeks and months. Michael Gove needs to set out his plans to offer all young people the skills and knowledge they need when they leave education at 18.

This government is letting down our young people by failing to build a modern education system fit for the modern world.

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