The Report of the Independent Panel on Technical Education, published in 2016, concluded that the technical education sector in England is overly complex and very small compared to international standards, which adversely affects productivity and fails to provide the skills most needed for the 21st century. 

Meanwhile the English education system often values academic achievement at the expense of vocational training.

But the biggest shake-up for several generations is about to challenge that. The government is preparing to launch T Levels for 16 to 19-year-olds to put technical qualifications on an equal footing with academic ones, and simplify the process of vocational training.

T Levels aim to support young people and adults to secure skilled employment and meet the needs of the economy. They will be available in 15 subjects, and are set to replace current vocational qualifications from 2020 onwards.

The new technical qualifications are being launched as a result of the government’s Post 16 Skills Plan, based on Lord Sainsbury’s independent review.

Technical education, the report authors argue, needs to better meet the needs of employers and offer young people a chance of lifetime employment to the highest skills levels.

Higher level skills training is also needed if we are to address the productivity gap highlighted by the latest Northern Powerhouse report called Educating the North. As things stand currently, the UK is set to fall to 28th out of 33 OECD countries in terms of developing intermediate skills by 2020.

Recently, the Department for Education (DfE) launched a series of panels to develop the outline content for the new T Levels. I’ve been appointed to one of the T Level panels for engineering and manufacturing – which is one of five technical specialisms offered at UTC Sheffield.

The panels comprise employers, professional bodies and education providers. So far, six panels have been set up covering digital, education and childcare, construction, health and science, legal, financial and accounting, and engineering and manufacturing. The government has also launched a public consultation on implementing T Levels that runs until February 8th 2018. For more information, click here.

I will draw on my experience of helping to establish the technical curriculum at the UTC, as part of the T Level panel discussions. Technical excellence is part of the dual educational approach at the UTC where employers underpin the curriculum. More than 70 employers support the UTC by providing guest talks, mentoring, curriculum projects and work experience.

Employers are involved across all of our technical specialisms, which also include creative and digital media, computing, health sciences and sport science. All students complete a high quality technical qualification alongside academic ones, so that they develop the professional and personal skills, and right attitude to work, that employers need providing learners with great career and university prospects.  Alongside our employer partners, Sheffield Hallam University and Sheffield Chamber of Commerce and The Sheffield College, sponsor the UTC.

Our alumni have gone on to high quality degree apprenticeships at Boeing and BP, and Russell Group institutions including Cambridge University. Last year 100% of students went on to a positive destination after completing their studies with us. They are testament to the merits of adopting a high quality technical approach to education, one that can provide a lasting legacy for young people, their communities, employers and the regional economy.

And that can only be a good thing for productivity in the city business region – and beyond.