Businesses urge students to consider vocational courses

As A-level students received their results on Thursday, business leaders urged teenagers not to ignore the importance of vocational qualifications by concentrating solely on university degrees.

Construction apprentice with tutor
Jane Gratton, head of people policy at the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC), congratulated students receiving their A-level results but said, "It’s important to remember there’s more than one path to success in the world of work" as youngsters considered their next moves."While many school-leavers and their families consider a place at university as the traditional route to a rewarding career, they could be overlooking other exciting, technical avenues for development and progression," she said.“The new, high quality apprenticeships allow young people to earn, learn and progress quickly in their chosen career. At a time when businesses are reporting critical levels of recruitment difficulties, employers are keen to help people develop practical experience, skills and qualifications on the job.“Businesses are working with schools and colleges to help ensure young people are aware of the range of technical and vocational options available to them. The government must work with employers to maximise opportunities for young people to use apprenticeships to kickstart their careers.”The A-level results came a day after almost 250,000 completed the vocational BTec Nationals qualifications this year. BTec courses can be sat by any age group and most are taken by those over the age of 22, as they develop practical skills for their careers. About 20 per cent of university students in England are accepted after studying only BTec Nationals. 

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Employers regard technical qualifications as first class

John Cope, head of education and skills policy at the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), said, “Employers see these technical qualifications as world class, not second class – and the start to a great career. “Congratulations to all those students receiving their results today. They are a testament to years of hard work, dedication, and determination. “Regardless of whether people get the results they hoped for or not, it’s important to remember that life isn’t just about exam results. Grades do matter, but they are one thing employers look for – just as important is creativity, passion and character.”

New T-levels qualification

On the introduction of new, technical qualifications called T-levels, whose courses will begin next year, Mr Cope said they would boost the prestige of technical education.“T-Levels will help bring logic and common sense to the thousands of qualifications employers and young people often struggle to navigate. The government’s commitment to T-Levels carrying UCAS points is essential," he said.“Once in place, young people will have the choice between three high quality options that employers, colleges and universities recognise: A-levels, T-levels or an apprenticeship.”Education Secretary Gavin Williamson appeared to agree. In a statement, he said: "Technical and vocational educational has played second fiddle to traditional academic options for too long."In three years’ time the look and feel of results day will be very different, with students getting their T-Level results, celebrating their hard work alongside those getting their A-levels."

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University admissions process needs to be fair and transparent

Meanwhile, the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) said that, on A-level day, the government should take steps to ensure that the university admissions process was as fair and transparent as possible.Mike Cherry, FSB national chairman, said that the integrity of the higher education system was at risk from the current system of predicted grades and unconditional offers.“This is a crucial time for all students as they make their next steps to higher education, which is why the process of university admissions needs to serve pupils in the best way possible," Mr Cherry said.“It’s vital that the admissions system works in the interests of pupils in what is a challenging educational environment.“The last administration announced that a full review was needed to put an end to some practices, which undermined the credibility of the university admissions process.“First of all, the current system of predicted grades are not sufficiently accurate and should not be used for admissions. Secondly, the use of unconditional offers harms students’ grades and traps them from exploring other options.“This practice is suitable to only some pupils and universities but not for all. In 2013, only 1.1 per cent of pupils received an unconditional offer, compared to 2018 where a staggering 34.4 per cent did so.“Gavin Williamson and Jo Johnson (universities minister) must pick up where Damian Hinds left off to create a fair system which doesn’t pressurise pupils into making a decision that can lead to under achievement in exams and have a major impact on their educational and working lives.“We need this review to uphold the integrity of the higher education system, as well as ensuring pupils are able to get the most out of their education."
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