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For GCSE students today is a nerve-wracking and exciting time, and we want to congratulate those who’ve achieved their aims.

However, it’s also essential to remember that school and education should prepare young people for adult life, not just to pass GCSEs. Technical, practical and vocational training is just as important and it’s vital to deliver the skilled workforce we need for the future.

New research from the Edge Foundation has revealed overwhelming support from parents to follow a less traditional path in shaping their future.

Edge has discovered that 78% of parents would support their child if they decided to take a vocational qualification.  In the current economic climate, 60% also felt that it is more important than ever to consider an alternative to the university route.

As I’m sure you’ve heard, youth unemployment remains stubbornly high.  Across England, more than 950,000 16 – 24 year olds are now classed as NEETS (not in education, employment or training).  Faced with an increasingly competitive job market, 62% of parents felt that vocational qualifications could help their child to compete.

Worryingly though, it appears that the Government has not kept up with parents’ opinion.  Since we gauged parents’ views in 2008, the number of parents who agreed every young person should study at least one vocational subject at school has increased by 10%. We found that there has also been an increase in the number of parents who think their child’s school places too much emphasis on academic achievement and not enough on vocational achievement.

As I mentioned last month, it was only recently that the Government decided that work-related learning (WRL) should be removed as a statutory part of the Key Stage 4 curriculum. This was in spite of a consultation by the Department for Education where 89% of those consulted opposed the changes.

At Edge we also believe there should be radical changes in the education system, particularly as the vast majority of young people stay in education or training until they are 18. We would like to see:

  • A general test at 14 to check student progress and help guide subject choices

  • A four-year programme of study for 14-18 year olds, enabling students to combine academic and hands-on subjects

  • A qualifications system where credits are achieved throughout the four years from 14 to 18, leading to a high school diploma

  • Education which prepares young people for adult life, not just to pass exams.

We support University Technical Colleges (UTCs) which are schools that are backed by a university as well as industry sponsors. Technical and academic education is integrated and practical work is valued as highly as academic study. These are proving extremely popular and we look forward to watching them develop in the future.

It’s very encouraging that parents recognise that practical, technical and vocational learning should be an integral part of every young person’s education. We hope that going forward the Government will see this too.

Jan Hodges is chief executive of Edge, the independent education foundation dedicated to raising the status of technical, practical and vocational learning

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