The TechBacc – What Chance of Success?

The latest attempt to introduce a vocational and occupational qualification, the Technical Baccalaureate (TechBacc), has been announced to begin in September 2014 and results will be reported in the performance tables in 2017. As usual the initiative is launched with all the usual political hype and well worn rhetoric – namely it will be an alternative choice and possess parity of esteem with ‘A’ levels , be attractive to students of all abilities and of the highest quality ensuring that the students have the skills employers want. This will be achieved through a programme comprising three elements namely:

  • A level 3 vocational award *that is endorsed by employers

  • A level 3 ‘core’ mathematics qualification which will include AS level mathematics
  • An extended project that will test additional skills such as writing, communication, research, self-discipline and self motivation

*Examples could be CGLI, BTEC. Cambridge Technical Diplomas or at least two GCE ‘A’ levels in science and/or technical subjects – note the continuing presence of GCE ‘A ‘level which will undermine the TechBacc.

The hope is that the TechBacc will provide students with a high-quality vocational programme supported by relevant basic skills such as literacy, mathematics and the wider employability and interpersonal skills necessary for employment or progression onto apprenticeship programmes or FE studies. The TechBacc framework draws upon existing and proposed national qualifications and will provide progression to apprenticeships, FE/HE, further training and employment. The TechBacc will be based on achievements rather than courses and will require evidence from different learning experiences including from a work place. Students will have a choice depending on their interests and intended occupation e.g. academic, artistic, technical and vocational – note that an academic theme is included which will again surely dilute the intentions of the award! After all, is the TechBacc a serious attempt to create a true alternative of equal value to ‘A’ levels or not!

Little reference is made to the multitude of previous initiatives that have gone before and the reasons why some of these worthy attempts failed e.g. TVEI, GNVQ, and Vocational Diplomas etc. No matter how good this latest initiative is, very fundamental and persistent problems exist, many of which have been discussed ad nauseam over decades. These include:

  • The cultural hostility to practical/technical disciplines
  • The prevailing preference for the so-called academic subjects over vocational ones
  • The destructive influence of the supposed gold standard of GCE ‘A’ levels supported by successive governments, public schools and some universities. In spite of innumerable attempts at reform they have remained largely the same since 1950
  • Recent research has shown that employers place a low premium on higher levels of skills for their employees and this acts as an inhibitor to up-skilling the workforce and those wishing to enter employment. 33% of employers do not possess a business or training plan let alone a training budget for their workers
  • Insensitive funding regimes for colleges which have disadvantaged vocational, technical and commercial subjects coupled with too much choice. Learners have opted for softer subjects that they perceive as easier and assume they provide a greater opportunity for employment

So will it succeed even if these fundamental issues are resolved? Early evidence shows little promise. There are already divisions are appearing between the political parties and awarding bodies. Different models are being proposed e.g. by CGLI and Lord Baker. CGLI have a strong case and with their reputation for vocational and technical qualifications and having attempted to develop a Technical Baccalaureate in the 1990s where they trade marked the terms Technical and Technological Baccalaureate when GNVQs were abolished.

It is hoped that graduates from the TechBacc will enter employment in technical roles in such areas as Science, Technology and Mathematics (STEM) occupations e.g. construction, engineering, IT, and laboratory technicians, service roles e.g. hospitality, personal and retail and creative technicians e.g. design, digital and other media, material/textile occupations

This initiative joins two others as the government attempts to raise the profile of vocational education namely University Technical Colleges (UTCs) and Studio Schools (SSs). Only time will tell if these institutions on the already cluttered and fragmented education and training landscape will led to any significant improvement and allow this country to be on a par with Germany, Japan and South Korea! But there is a very steep path to climb as in England 60% of students leave full-time education at 16 whilst in Japan the figure is 4% and 10% in Germany and the USA.

May 2013

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