Technical education overhaul unveiled by Skills Minister

A report into technical education by an independent panel, chaired by Lord Sainsbury, has recommended simplifying the current system so technical education is provided through 15 high-quality routes, with standards being set by employers.

In response, Skills Minister Nick Boles has recently (8 July 2016) published the ‘Post-16 skills plan’, accepting every one of Lord Sainsbury’s recommendations, while setting out the government’s innovative vision for the future of technical education.

The skills plan proposes a new system where students who have finished their GCSEs will be able to choose from up to 15 routes providing a clear path to skilled employment. Crucially the content for those routes and the accompanying standards will be set by an employer-led body.

Each route, such as health and science, construction, social care or engineering and manufacturing, will take place either at a college and include a work placement or through apprenticeships. The first routes will be made available from 2019.

All technical routes will build in English, maths and digital skills, according to employers’ needs, and will set standards of excellence that are every bit as demanding as A levels. Each programme will include a ‘common core’, which applies to all individuals studying that route and is aligned to apprenticeships (including English and maths requirements, and digital skills), followed by specialisation towards a skilled occupation or set of occupations. 

Some key points in the report in relation to maths and English are as follows:

Students who need help with the foundations: maths and English

"Raising literacy and numeracy levels at all stages of education, including post-16, remains an absolute priority. Since we made it a condition of funding, all 16–19 year-olds beginning a study programme who have not achieved A*–C GCSEs in maths and English must continue to study these subjects until they do so (unless specific special educational needs or disabilities prevent them from doing so). This has resulted in thousands more students securing these GCSEs by age 19. The OECD has commended our reforms and, working with schools, colleges and employers, we will build on them. 

As well as taking forward the Sainsbury panel’s recommendations on maths and English, we have already asked Professor Sir Adrian Smith to review the case for how to improve the study of maths from 16 to 18, including looking at the case and feasibility for more or all students to continue to study maths to 18 in the longer term.

At our invitation, the Education and Training Foundation (ETF) is reforming maths and English Functional Skills qualifications to ensure they are stretching and relevant to employers’ needs, with teaching of the reformed qualifications beginning in September 2018. Apart from GCSEs, Functional Skills are the highest-volume qualifications that Ofqual regulate; in 2014 over a million Functional Skills qualifications were taken. We are also focussing on raising the quality of teaching and improving student outcomes and will:

  • introduce a new 16–19 maths and English progress measure from 2016
  • continue to invest in workforce schemes, and work with the sector, Ofsted, the ETF and the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) to improve teaching
  • for adults yet to achieve level 2 in maths and English, continue to make free education in these subjects available and encourage take-up of GCSEs and level 2 Functional Skills qualifications"


"English and maths will remain vital skills, and we recommend that, in addition to any separate requirements as a result of the English and maths funding condition, there is a single set of maths and English ‘exit’ requirements governing college based technical education and apprenticeships. These should be seen as the minimum level of maths or English which all individuals must achieve ahead of securing technical education certification, as is already the case for apprentices.

We recognise that current requirements are still low by international standards, and we believe individuals should have higher aspirations. In the longer term, as the quality of pre- and post-16 maths and English teaching and associated learner outcomes improve, government should raise maths and English requirements to reflect those of higher-performing international technical education systems.

We would want the Institute for Apprenticeships’ panels of professionals to include relevant maths and English standards where these directly relate to occupational requirements; indeed many occupations will require higher standards. We recommend the Institute for Apprenticeships encourages its panels of professionals to incorporate additional, occupation-specific maths and English requirements into the standards for each route."

A workforce fit for the future

"It remains very important that the sector has a workforce able to teach maths and English effectively. Existing workforce programmes have made a significant impact but there is a lot more to do to ensure consistently high-quality teaching. We are therefore investing over £15 million in the provision of bursaries and in grant funding to the Education and Training Foundation (ETF) in 2016–17, and will continue to run these or similar schemes until spring 2019. Between now and 2019, we expect colleges and other training providers to take on more direct responsibility for workforce development, taking advantage of the standards set and the services provided by the ETF."

View the full report

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