November 20, 2013 11:03 pm

Labour to announce plans for vocational education

Tristram Hunt on April 15, 2010 in Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire©Getty

Labour plans to create a new type of technical college to improve vocational training will be announced on Thursday by Tristram Hunt, in his first speech as the party’s education spokesman.

The 39-year-old historian has been charged by Ed Miliband, Labour leader, with focusing on raising standards in schools and colleges, in an attempt to boost the party’s standing among parents and young people.

In the absence of new money to spend, Mr Hunt has instead concentrated on measures to raise teaching standards and he will announce that in future, all college teachers must be qualified, echoing his policy for school teachers.

But the main focus of Labour’s plan is creating specialist institutes of technical education, licensed to teach a new technical baccalaureate and provide courses funded by the £1.5bn annual government apprenticeship budget.

“Only colleges with top-quality teaching, strong employer links and high standards in English and maths will gain a licence,” Mr Hunt will say. “Under Labour, college lecturers will have to obtain a teaching qualification to ensure standards are high.”

He will argue that many further education colleges do not provide satisfactory basic numeracy and literacy skills to those young people who do not go to university.

Under the proposals, FE colleges that do not meet the new standards could find themselves in relative decline, with the possibility that some might close.

Mr Miliband promised to improve vocational training in his 2012 conference speech and Mr Hunt says it is a blind spot of Michael Gove, education secretary. Labour believes Mr Gove is more focused on pure academic study.

“We languish 21st out of all OECD countries in terms of technical skills, and 31 per cent of high-tech manufacturing firms have been forced to import labour from overseas due to the skills shortage,” Mr Hunt will say.

Last year Sir Michael Wilshaw, head of schools watchdog Ofsted, said the FE sector was an area of “real concern” and criticised ministers for not identifying or addressing failures.

Vince Cable, business secretary, and Matthew Hancock, skills minister, are preparing to announce a new system of apprenticeships and this week set out plans for more broadband access and a £488m capital investment plan in colleges.

Sir Michael said last year: “The FE sector’s got to get better. And I think this is a neglected sector. We need to worry about it a great deal more.”

Ofsted’s annual report in 2012 found that 13 colleges serving 82,000 students were rated “inadequate”, compared with four the previous year. Even at the top there was little sign of excellence – for the second consecutive year Ofsted did not rate the teaching of any FE college as “outstanding”.

. . .

Tristram Hunt: Lobby fodder to shadow cabinet

When Tristram Hunt stood for parliament in Stoke-on-Trent in 2010 he was privately dismissed by some Labour insiders as a Hampstead-educated “pretty boy” who would flop with the voters of the tough Midlands seat.

But the telegenic historian-cum-Labour MP has confounded his critics by making the jump from backbench lobby fodder to the shadow cabinet in just three years.

As shadow education secretary Mr Hunt now has the difficult task of fleshing out Labour’s often vague policy stance – which has waxed and waned in its hostility to free schools.

Recently he criticised Michael Gove, education secretary, as a “zealot” who wanted to see a “competitive, atomistic school landscape” governed by a “free market vision”. But he has stopped short of promising to reverse Mr Gove’s reforms.

Mr Hunt’s career took off in 2001 when he started teaching British history at Queen Mary, University of London, having taken a doctorate in the subject of Victorian civic pride at the University of Cambridge.

He has since become well known for his television and radio work and his writing, including a book about the life of Friedrich Engels, the 19th century political thinker and patron of Karl Marx.

Mr Hunt, who is close to Lord Mandelson, was promoted in a reshuffle of the shadow cabinet last month.

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