The City and Guilds TechBac


The City and Guilds Institute of London (CGLI) has developed a new qualification namely a TechBac. Everyone interested in education knows that the current education and training system is failing to deliver the skills needed for employment and the workplace. There is now a consensus amongst educationists, employers, parents and students that the curriculum is too narrow and academic. In addition the curriculum is dominated by over assessment and examinations regimes which further deflect the teaching and learning process from its true purpose. A great deal of time is spent preparing for assessments and examinations and an obsession with national league tables. The curriculum is very much prescribed and allows teachers and students little freedom to explore wider issues. Little attention is given to the soft skills like, communication, managing one’s own learning, mentoring, numerical and financial literacy, problem solving, and working in teams. Also little opportunity exists for meaningful work experience programmes and hence the gaining of knowledge and the necessary skills required for the workplace. A recent survey of employers showed that 77% of them thought that a work experience prepared the learners to be more work ready. Previous attempts to introduce vocational elements into the curriculum have largely failed e.g. CPVE, GNVQs, vocational diplomas and the TVEI because they did not find favour with one government or another.

The development of a Baccalaureate type qualification in this country has had a chequered history. The proposed British Baccalaureate in 1990 promised much being sponsored by the Institute of Public Policy Research (IPPR) and a number of Labour politicians including Tessa Blackstone but was quickly dropped when the Labour party was subsequently elected in 1997. The debates after the publication of the British Baccalaureate centred on the sanctity of ‘A’ levels and as usual their supposed gold standards, and indeed those of the GCSEs which continued to reign supreme. The curriculum maintains its academic bias still today. Other attempts to introduce a baccalaureate failed (see article ‘The TechBacc- What Chance of Success’? (1)).

So it is with great interest that the City and Guilds (CGLI) are developing a new qualification for 14 to 19 year olds called the ‘TechBac’ and have argued that the award will create the technical and professional skills needed for the modern workplace. In addition the award will offer progression to apprenticeship programmes and to further and higher education and training. The Institute has worked closely with industry to gain endorsement of the award as well as helping to develop the specification to create the skills that employers want from their employees. Employer involvement has been significant at the design, recognition, and assessment stages which will engender credibility with employers, parents and the learners themselves. The award is available at level 2 and 3 with different sizes of units to fit the learner’s study programme and can be delivered in one or two years. The award has been approved by the Department for Education (DfE) and will attract UCAS points and will be published on national performance tables. The TechBac comprises two main elements: technical skills; and transferable skills and workplace behaviours. The technical skills have been designed to meet the latest industry needs and standards and to be rigorous and delivering high quality practical learning. The professional transferrable/workplace skills aim to develop, accredit workplace skills and help the learners to be more confident, competent and ready for employment in the world of work.

The award has also introduced a reduced assessment burden with an interesting grading profile namely grade 1: outstanding, grade2: good, grade 3: requires improvement and grade 4: inadequate. The Technical Certificate (TC) will consist of 360/450 Guided Learning Hours (GLHs) made up of 30/60 GLH units. A pass of the Technical Certificate (TC) will allow progression to an apprenticeship programme or onto a level 3 Technical Level Qualification (TLQ). The award comprises a set of mandatory content which must make up at least 40% of the qualification. A proportion of the awards will be assessed externally with a minimum of 25% for the Technical Certificate (TC) and 30% for Technical Level Qualification (TLQ).

The award will include a practical work experience programme which will allow the learners to monitor, evaluate their work placement and encourage the placement providers to improve the quality of future placements. In addition an assessed project qualification which will help to develop the learners’ independent study skills. Soft skills will also be assessed which are not currently accredited by other qualifications. The award will be available to schools and colleges and will offer provision for 14 to 18 yea rolds.
Clearly there are many challenges in introducing the award. It will face the same issues that have dogged previous attempts to introduce vocational elements in the curriculum. It must be strongly promoted and endorsed by the government, employers, customers and educationalists. Education and training providers must provide clear, honest brokership and open information, advice and guidance to prospective student’s i.e. articulate ambassadors to champion the new award. Hopefully it will succeed and realise parity of esteem with existing awards. It will be introduced in 2017.

For more information of the TechBac visit the CGLI website http:/




Summary of Progression Routes:

Possible choices:

Up to 16 >CORE +EBacc GCEs+3Technical Awards or non-core GCSEs +Additional GCSEs or Other qualifications.

16 to 18 >‘A´ levels/Applied Generals/Tech Levels/TechBac/Technical Certificates/Apprentices/Traineeships. Mixed programmes can also be taken i.e. blend of Applied Generals, ‘A’ levels and Technical Qualifications.

18+> Higher Education or Apprenticeship or Employment.

The above is a classic example of a clustered and confusing qualification landscape so typical of this country.

The Trailblazer Apprenticeship Programme – A Promising Initiative.

Apprenticeships still occupy a central part of the skills agenda, but will all this discussion bring about the high quality frameworks that are now urgently required? The main political drive seems to be to create large numbers of apprenticeships, but with little reference or debate about the quality and fitness for purpose of the programmes. These two elements are surely the most important and should not be subverted by political hype over the numbers taking them up.

Too often politicians get carried away quoting numbers, imagining the larger the number, more of the population will be conned into believing their commitment to an issue! It’s the old issue of quality verses quantity. Significantly, however, one aspect of the government’s namely the Trailblazer initiative, which was launched in March, looks promising and could create effective apprenticeship programmes. A number of key professional bodies have been very actively involved with the initiative including the Chartered Institute of Plumbing and Heating Engineering (CIPHE). Other Trailblazer programmes will be launched over the next few years and will represent other profession and trades.

Colleges and college lecturers want to play a key part in developing and delivering high quality apprenticeships, working closely with employers and the relevant professional organisations. The CIPHE has led the way with involvement in the Trailblazer initiative, which allows employers to be involved in designing the programmes and equally important, directly defining and developing the skills that their workers need now and in the future.

The success of the Trailblazer initiative highlights the importance of networking across a wide range of stake holder’s e.g. professional bodies, employers, awarding bodies, colleges and training providers and standard setting organisations. This is but one element of the programme that promises much for the future. The programme is set at Level 3 with an entry Level 2 in English and Mathematics and is delivered over 48 months, with an opportunity for the assessment/accreditation of prior experience and learning (APEL), for candidates with relevant previous experience. A comprehensive set of units both general and specialised provide all the necessary knowledge and skills for the practitioner including health and safety, dealing with customers in order to understand the complexity of the profession

The knowledge, skills and behavioural specification is comprehensive and provides a strong foundation for practitioners of the future. The specification fully recognises the importance of mathematical, scientific and equally important the practical and behavioural skills needed along with the wider core/soft skills.

Finally on graduation a clear progression career route is defined by the award of EngTech, accredited by the Engineering Council in association with CIPHE. This sets the scene for practitioners to progress to higher professional memberships e.g. Incorporated and Chartered Engineer following work experience and Continuous Professional Development (CPD). It is hoped the Plumbing Trailblazer programme will be formally launched in 2017.

I am relatively optimistic about the initiative and hope that colleges will be significantly involved in the delivery and further development. This development will benefit the students, employers and colleges and raise the profile of the professional status of plumbing and heating engineering.  Hopefully other professional and trade associations will develop their apprenticeship programmes.


The British Problem – Productivity and Manufacturing!


(Productivity is a measure of the efficiency with which available resources are used in production).

Current debates about rebalancing the economy and the ability of the country to compete in the global market constantly highlights the low current productivity levels in the manufacturing industry. The need to increase exports significantly in the future is crucial to this endeavour. International surveys over many years have shown consistently that we lag well behind most of our international competitors. For example for the G7 nations Britain was on average 17% less productive and an often quoted statement is that France is 20% more productive than this country i.e. they achieve in four days what we do in five.

The OECD report in 2014 also highlighted that the country had become even less productive, decreasing by 3% per hour between 2007 and 2012. Even accepting the complexities associated with the factors in play when defining and measuring productivity and the confusing array of the resulting statistical interpretations, the reality is that the country is performing poorly.

A recent report has identified the need to increase exports to £1 trillion by 2020, but the indications already show this target is unrealistic and is very unlikely to be achieved falling short by at least 30% There are a wide range of complex and interconnected causes in play creating these problems, including low investment in research and development (R&D) and poor innovation and creativity skills. The solutions will take a long time to reform and implement and will require radical approaches, free from political dogma and micro-management. One essential element is the need to develop high quality technical education and training following these reforms and again the FE sector must be significantly involved.

So what are the factors that have created low productivity? As already mentioned there are many dimensions, including the inadequate resourcing and support of technical and vocational education and training. The country operates a low skill/ low wage/high employment policy, which increasingly depends on immigrant workers, who are prepared to work for low wages. Other factors include workers’ motivation, the work environment, pay, conditions of service, the paucity of CPD and the quality of leadership and management. Recent surveys show that a large number of office workers spend a great deal of the working time using the internet, Facebook and twitter for their own purposes. This is a very sad statement about the workers commitment and loyalty to the company and also reflects poor management and supervision. This contrasts with the China when a recent survey showed that 60% of the Chinese workforce work overtime voluntarily.

Many commentators argue that to maintain a productive industrial base, some unemployment is necessary but also underpinned by an effective and efficient technical education and training system. Investing in our own education and training system is essential. After all, I would argue that taking people from abroad can be seen as unethical, where often poorer countries have invested in their own people and then to see them poached by richer countries. I accept that social and economic mobility is a fact of globalism, but there has be an understanding of the wider issues in recruiting overseas people including the ethical ones.

Clearly if a reformed and effective manufacturing base is established by this government, then the issue of low productivity must be addressed recognising the complex mix of factors that creates it. This would also have significant impact on the technical and vocational curriculum in FE colleges which will require colleges to inform students of the issues involved: the rationale for greater use of work experience programmes and the creation of realistic working environments in colleges would provide students with a greater understanding of the work place and the factors that contribute to low productivity and how they can improve it.

Again this puts Further Education Sector and apprenticeships centre stage in producing the qualified and informed workers of the future.

Some comments on competitiveness:

Britain is at present the fifth-largest economy but is tenth in competitiveness according to the World Economic Forum –  a figure that is continuing to decline.

Britain invests far less in training than its European counterpart and cuts back even further during recessions.

Poor quality management and leadership in manufacturing further weaken competitiveness and undermines any chance of improvement.

Manufacturing employs 2.6 million people representing approximating 8% of the workforce a figure that continues to decline. On average currently (2016) the workforce is declining by 20,000 people per quarter,

One depressing fact is the poor state of broadband coverage and the development of 4G  and 4G+ technologies in this country. The country broadcasts it is the 5th richest in the world but it is 54th on the broadband coverage and capacity. This seriously undermines its competitiveness and productivity. Couple this with the poor record of OECD skills in mathematics and science then the future for this country is dire. What makes this worse is the inability of the government and its departments to acknowledge and act on this woeful state.

Manufacturing contribution to the national economy was 41% in 1948 falling to 20% in 1997 and to 10% in 2016.

If the country is stupid enough to leave the EU the situation will be worse particularly in the area of skills gaps and shortages, investment, R&D investment etc.  Let’s hope sanity and realism reigns.


Productivity and competitiveness are very important contributing factors for  success in the global economy.

Evidence, both national and international shows that Britain does not have an effective strategy on manufacturing.

Poor working environments contribute to low competitive and productivity levels and research has shown a number of factors contribute to this element including ambient conditions such as work areas and there size, appearance and attractiveness, noise levels, temperature, humidity etc. Also the location of the work place is becoming a crucial factor e.g. the transport systems that the workers have to use to get to and from work and the hospitality facilities in the surrounding area to the work place.

Equally concerning is the continued decline by company’s investment in Research and Development (R&D) coupled with the government reducing the investment in science, engineering and technology. Investment in R&D and science/engineering and technology has declined since the early 2000s. This is a really depressing fact and will greatly weaken both the competitiveness and productivity levels in this country compared with our competitors in the global economies.



Open Learning-Its Potential and Limitations

Open Learning – Its Potential and Limitations in Contributing to the Skills Agenda

The advent of open learning systems (OLS) that utilise the advantages of the internet clearly offers many opportunities to widen participation in education and training and make a major contribution to lifelong learning. The associated technologies allow increased distribution and access opportunities to potential learners across the globe and reduce/remove many barriers that restrict participation for many individuals. This can provide no/low-cost access and use with little or no restrictions for the learner. A multitude of technologies and techniques have been developed to suit the learner’s situation and needs. Massive on-line learning programmes are available across a wide range of subjects many of which are freely downloadable. The quality of the teaching material can be superior to class room based teaching and learning especially when the local providing institutions are constrained by resources.

Clearly these positive statements need to be qualified and the issues are mainly associated with quality assurance for the programmes, access issues and the learning resources themselves. Obviously strict standards must be in place coupled with rigorous inspection and monitoring regimes in order that quality is assured and the programmes deliver what they say they will. It must be recognised that traditional quality assurance mechanisms that exist in more formal face to face environments cannot be applied to these emerging widely distributed and open on-line learning methods. New approaches have to be created and require organisations like OECD, EU, and other organisations and consortia who are offering provision to establish agreed international standards and inspection techniques. Networks and consortia of universities and colleges are now offering open learning programmes recognising the undoubted advantages of these approaches and that will enhance their provision.

Clearly the ultimate success of open learning depends on the availability of high quality broad band in terms of geographical coverage and band width. There are still areas in Europe that have poor coverage and inadequate band width.

Clearly from my perspective and interest in the teaching of technical and practically based subjects is the ability of these technologies to play their part in improving and delivering a relevant pedagogical experience. For successful teaching of practical and manual skills the learning environment must be as realistic as possible. The technologies can obviously complement and add value to the traditional formal methods where the learners have access to laboratories and workshops in colleges and training providers. The visual and audio on-line material can provide a much richer detail and resultant experience that might not be available in the more formal setting of the classroom, laboratories and workshops because of resource limitations. The technologies can offer a range of techniques that will engage and enhance the learning experience including interactive visual/audio presentations and practical demonstrations that will complement the essential local hands on approach of the learner, information and work sheets, tests and assessment material and an increasing number of specialised apps (applications). The material can be downloaded and will complement book based/lecture material.

However real challenges still exist for the lone and isolated learner who might not have access to laboratories and workshops and hence not have the benefit of an essential realistic working environment. The development of more sophisticated modes of online interactivity will create more realistic working environments (RWEs) which would greatly enhance the learning experience in this mode in the future. I still have some reservations, albeit minor, that these technologies will never create the real hands on experience that I feel should still be realised for learners in gaining technical and practical skills.

Open educational resources (OERs) and open educational practices (OEPs) will increasingly make a major contribution to the teaching and learning of theoretical and practical skills in the future.

The Chartered Institute for Plumbing and Heating Engineering (CIPHE) have created an excellent e-learning portal for its members. It provides high quality learning material for plumbers and students and shows the potential of Open Learning. Modules are ten to sixty minutes duration and many are created and sponsored by manufacturers. The address is and is well worth looking at.

The Future of the FE Sector is in Real Danger!

Yet again parliament is discussing the future of the Further Education Sector. During this period of austerity the topic is very much alive as the government tackles or should that be attacks public sector spending. FE has always been an easy target, little understood or given the recognition it deserves. Massive cuts are being introduced across college budgets e.g. 24%+ at Liverpool College and as a result staff are being made redundant and more are employed on fixed term or zero hour contracts. A recent report highlighted the massive reserves that universities have compared with the paucity of funds that the colleges have pointing out that 25% of colleges will be bankrupt with the next year! This is bad enough but a number of politicians are suggesting that the sector is increasingly irrelevant arguing that the other sectors of education and the private sector can make the provision. The appearance of academies, specialist schools, free schools and the like and the raising of the school leaving age to 18 does not help the case for colleges. Also the number of colleges in the country continues to decline rapidly. Many politicians seem to imagine the provision can be developed and delivered in these other institutions, again reflecting their ignorance of technical and vocational education.

Sadly it reflects the fact that technical education and training and its providers have been treated as second best for many decades. Since the Great Exhibition technical education has witnessed many false dawns, been bombarded with volumes of empty rhetoric with little long term improvement, and this situation continues today. If the government is serious about rebalancing the economy and establishing an effective revitalised manufacturing base it must fully recognise the key role the sector must play in this endeavour. The government should recognise that colleges and other training providers must be significantly involved in the development of high quality apprenticeship programmes with employers and major programmes in technical and vocational education and training.

Actions that must be taken:

  • College staff must lobby their professional organisations and employers they work with to make it clear to politicians of all persuasions that the sector is essential in creating the highly qualified workforce of the future and play a major part in improving the current low skills levels so prevalent in this country.
  • A fundamental review and reform of education and training in this country to be carried out to once and for all establish an effective FE sector that is recognised, secure, and well-resourced and given equal status with schools and universities.
  • College staff, particularly Senior and members of the Governors to lobby local MPs and get them to visit the colleges regularly to see their work.
  • Colleges to work together with the organisations that represent the sector again to constantly lobby all the appropriate parties.
  • Get former students to champion the advantages and merits of colleges and their qualifications
  • Get rid of the differential funding regimes between young and older students and those pursuing different modes of attendance/delivery.
  • Treat all the sectors fairly particularly in their resources. The average funding for FE students is £2,000 as opposed to £9,000 for university students.
  • Tackle the massive surpluses that universities hold and transfer some of the money to colleges.

The message to all interested parties is to tap all possible networks in order to broadcast the importance of the sector and its work or it will be consigned to history.



Work Experience and Employability – Key Elements.


The value of work experience at all levels of the education system has long been acknowledged although many employers, employer groups and universities have not been fully convinced or supportive of work based learning. Even today there is continued resistance, albeit thankfully now declining, to work experience programmes. Over the years universities and a number of employers have been criticised   for not recognising the value of work-experience programmes and its essential focus on the practical aspects associated with the world of work.  Too often they were obsessed with the academic aspects of degree subjects with the resultant neglect of the practical applications of that knowledge in the work place or were more interested in the university from which students graduated. Interestingly to note that 19% of graduates are now working in non-graduate jobs, a figure that is predicted to increase in the future and a stark reminder of the woeful state of the supply and demand strategies being operated in the country!  In order to address skills shortages and gaps the country urgently needs more engineers (estimated to require a 100% increase in order to satisfy current demand), computer science graduates (20,000 needed) and many more skilled technicians in order to begin to rebalance the economy. A recent survey highlighted the need to produce 1.82 million engineers and technicians by 2022. The current decline in the teaching of Design and Technology (D&T) in schools both associated with the number of qualified teachers and the low number of students wishing to study the subject is particularly concerning. The subject has always struggled to be fully recognised in the national curriculum.

Work experience also helps create business critical skills /attributes often referred to as  soft skills which are seen as being very important in preparing people entering employment.

Early work experience programmes are crucial as a predictor of future career performance and outcomes. It is essential that all parties make a long term commitment to work experience programmes at all stages of education and training. In addition there must be a long term and continued commitment to the development of high quality apprentice programmes. Internships if properly managed with interns receiving a proper wage and involved in the company have allowed some employers to witness the benefit of relevant and real on job training and experience. These programmes must be further expanded across all employment sectors with SMEs particularly given far more financial and government support to increase their involvement.  Interesting to note that SMEs employ 60% of workers in private sector companies and this figure will increase significantly in the future. Equally important SMEs must be supported to engage more fully in apprenticeship programmes.

Extended programmes of work experience at all levels especially at the school stages of the education and training system are urgently required as this will greatly benefit all parties and the wider economy.  A great deal of discussion recently has centred on the need to  create ‘work ready graduates’  and programmes of work experience will most certainly assist in this essential endeavour.  Equally important more effective programmes of careers information, advice and guidance must be developed within the education and training sectors with an emphasis on honest and realistic broker-ship. It is also essential to recognise the importance of the older worker in these programmes as the work force ages and the realities of the demographic trends are more fully understood. Currently 25% of the country’s workforce is over 50 years of age and this figure will significantly increase in the future.

Students must also be more realistic about their studies and take ownership of their career intentions particularly at the earlier stages of their education. Too often they drift into HE without any real idea of what they want to do after graduation. In addition parental and teacher pressure often sets them on the wrong study/career path.

Businesses/companies, CBI, Chambers of Commerce, professional bodies should put more effort in to writing and communicating realistic descriptions and explanations of their fields of work, production and services which speak to 14-16 year olds as well as post16s. They have as much responsibility for grabbing young people’s attention as any other institution.

If this country is serious about rebalancing our economy and realise the rather clumsy and stupid slogan  ‘march with the makers’  made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer it must address some fundamental practices and beliefs.

The country urgently needs to rethink its current obsession with the financial services and consumerism. To summarise it must move towards production and away from a consuming society and create a more sensible balance between the manufacturing and service based industries. The education and training system has a central role to play and the introduction of extensive programmes of work experience is an essential feature of this endeavour. Following cuts to colleges over the past few years 25% of Further Colleges (FECs) are expected to be bankrupt within the next year and a number of commentators have argued that £500m should be taken away from the current vast reserves held by some universities. FE colleges have a central role in training engineers, technicians and skilled workers in strategically important industries that will form the basis of a rebalanced economy and must be resourced properly.

Rebalancing the Economy – Fact or Fiction?


What progress has occurred since the government announcement that it intends to reform and rebalance the country’s economy? There is little evidence of that commitment so far in spite of a great deal of rhetoric about skills shortages, gaps, restoring a manufacturing base, productivity levels etc. Age old issues are rehearsed yet again but with little positive and lasting results. If the country is foolish enough to vote to leave the EU the situation will further get worse in terms of competitiveness, skills shortages etc. Lets hope sanity is realised.

The slogan ‘march with the makers’ coined by the Chancellor trivialises this crucially important endeavour bearing in mind the multitude of long standing and fundamental problems and factors associated with the economy. In order to resolve these problems radical solutions need to be identified and addressed recognising that many will be painful for politicians, the financial and banking services, employers and society in general.

In order to compete internationally and establish a rebalanced economy based on manufacturing the following important actions will need to be taken:

Reduce the emphasis on financial and service/consumer based industries and establish a more balanced economy founded on the manufacture of high value products and services. Credit has become the primary aim of growth – debt rules the financial systems in many parts of the world and we have a situation where there is now a form of dictatorship by creditors. In earlier time the manufacturers/producers drove the economies but now the bankers dominate and largely determine the economies of many countries.

Move from a linear to a circular economy. Rethink the design, manufacturing and distribution of products – develop a culture of recycling and cease the built in redundancy created by manufacturers. Recycle material to generate energy and to manufacture new products.

Realign the manufacturing base reducing the emphasis on military and weapons production and exports. Develop a set of manufacturing companies that produce high quality products.

Devolve powers from the City, London and the South East to the English Regions and home nations e.g. NI, Wales and Scotland exploiting the undoubted strengths of the whole country and creating a more equitable and fair society.

Develop strong trading links with the emerging economies and recognise the importance of the EU to the economy. If the country is foolish enough to vote to leave the EU the future for the economy is dire.

Raising the levels of productivity within the current work force the country has a productivity level 20% below France, 32% below America and 33% below Germany. A recent survey showed that many workers spent a great deal of their supposed working time on the internet, twitter and sending pointless emails – this partly explains the reason for low productivity.  Education and employers have a major role to play here via in-service training and CPD etc. The dire state of the nations economy must be recognised and addressed – the massive personal and corporate debt will eventually hit a brick wall and cause the country to be totally bankrupt with all the consequent problems. Continued QE will not solve the problems it has only benefitted the banks/financial sectors, the art world, high valued property markets i.e. the 1% of the population and there is no evidence of any benefit or trickle down  to the real economy and the average person. The country and its economy is based on further increasing debt and this must cease and move to producing products that the world will buy.

Massive and sustained investment in infrastructure e.g. transport – roads, railways and public transport in general, affordable housing, digital connectivity and the development of quality broad band across the whole nation.

Raise significantly the current level of skills of workers and move away from a low skill/ low waged economy/high benefit regimes. This example is reinforced by the rapid growth of zero hour contracts.

Develop business critical skills/attributes often called soft skills to prepare people entering employment. Skills such as creativity, team working, problem solving, communications, managing ones own learning etc. are increasingly becoming more important.

Reduce the amount of pointless bureaucracy imposed on employers and provide incentives for employers to train their staff. Sadly investment by employers over the past 20 years has declined every year and this intensifies during recession and turn downs in the economy.

Once and for all adequately resource FE colleges with funding methodologies that recognise high cost low recruitment in strategically important technical, practical orientated and vocational subjects.

Promote and raise the profile of the importance of technical, commercial and vocational education and training across the education system. Create a parity of esteem between FE colleges and Higher Education institutions.

Stop institutions and the school curriculum from academically drifting. Reduce the obsession with examinations and assessments and the academic dominance in the national curriculum.

More fully recognise the importance of FE colleges and training providers and the crucial role they play in training engineers, technicians and skilled practical members of the workforce. Significantly increase and sustain the funding to FECs.

Create more links between schools and FE colleges using the experience of the TVEI.

Develop more work based learning in schools and colleges with compulsory work placements and experience programmes.

Involve employers more in the development and monitoring of the school curriculum.

Continue to create and resource high quality apprenticeship programmes including those at the higher levels. The government must inform employers of the value of apprenticeships and the need for levies. Employers must know what the level of the levy means for them and the apprentices.

Develop more effective and accurate labour market intelligence methods particularly associated with supply and demand issues.

Develop more effective careers information, advice and guidance systems in schools, colleges and universities.

Develop a greater emphasis of technical and vocational elements within the national school curriculum. Create a greater balance and integration between the theoretical and practical aspects of the curriculum. Review fundamentally the balances between content, knowledge, competences and skills with the curriculum.

Tackle the need to develop mathematical, scientific and technological literacy across the curriculum at all levels i.e. school and post-16 curriculum.

Create a better balance between applied and academic skills and between the hard an soft skills in the national curriculum

Develop clear policies and strategies on skills shortages and gaps using accurate and up to date supply and demand data.

Recognise and support more fully micros and SMEs and their important place in the future economy.

Some additional thoughts:

We need to reverse the current financial policy/philosophy of placing the economy over society. The economy is currently driven by banks, financial organisations and the 1% rich and this is now acknowledged as having massively failed. The new approach should be society over economy putting social and people in the driving seat. Obviously this is a very radical proposal which does not fit with current financial practices and political beliefs.

In addition private/personal debt must be addressed and significantly reduced and if possible completely eliminated. This will allow people to invest and save and this in turn will increase demand and contribute to the health of the national economy. People at present are spending what money they have on servicing debt and coping with the costs of living, low wages, frozen annual wage increases and the continuing erosion of working conditions e.g. zero hour contracts. The high costs of covering such items as rent and mortgages continue to dominate their budgets. The obsession with property must be reduced significantly particularly in Britain.

If the economy is driven by society and its members many of the current problems will be reduced. As the nature of work is transformed by robots, the new technologies and the consequences of the global economy developed nations need to urgently review and reform the way it manages employment and the economy. The government must have a clear vision and policy on the national economy and the future nature of work and how this impacts on workers and citizens. One possibility is the introduction of Universal Benefit Income (UBI) which will allow people to survive financially. Radical and challenging reforms are now needed particularly for the developed nations like America, Britain and the EU.

University of London External Degrees

(An external degree is a degree offered by a university or a university approved centre to students where the students’ learning takes place outside the direct supervision of the university/college). The external degree is offered alongside the traditional internal degree programmes for those students who can attend the University full time).

External degrees were established by University of London in 1858 and were offered to people who were not able to attend the institutions in London. The degrees were open to people in other cities, or to London based students who had attended evening classes. Across the country approved/accredited colleges including designated university colleges were established. In 1865 overseas centres were approved the first being in Mauritius.

This mode of study is but one of the pioneering achievements of London University – also the first Higher Education Institution in England to admit women to degrees and to offer innovative degrees in engineering and science. Today external degrees still form part of the University’s portfolio of distance learning programmes which has greatly expanded with the advent of information and communication technologies and on-line learning. Currently the University of London External System continues to innovate offering over 100 qualifications many taught using the latest technologies. Approximately 41,000 students from 180 nations pursing external degrees based on 2008 figures. External degrees and study offer real opportunities to students who because of financial, energy and time constraints cannot travel between one’s home town and the University and increasingly for those who are undertaking study with paid employment. Today with the advent of distance and on-line learning the opportunities are greatly increased.

The majority of Higher Education (HE) institutions now offer external learning opportunities but London was the first to offer external degrees. However I want to focus on the award from a personal viewpoint and describe their importance to many students particularly in the mid-1900s when secondary schooling was very different and defined by the tripartite system. Many people are surprised that this mode of study and attendance existed then. So I hope this short account will highlight its importance, recognise the pioneering work of London University and show how the external degrees were managed and operated to benefit many students at that time.

I was an external degree student studying the BSc Special Honours Physics programme between 1962 and 1965 at Portsmouth College of Technology. The college had gained accreditation from London University to offer external degrees both at Special and General level in a wide range of subjects e.g. botany, economics, engineering, physics and sociology, London University deemed that the college possessed the necessary resources and reputation to offer its HE programmes.

Like many individuals who had failed the 11+ Colleges offered me a second chance after leaving Secondary Modern School which in the system of the time did not offer GCE qualifications. Initially I attended the College to take GCE ‘O’ and then ‘A’ levels. Staff at the college then encouraged me to continue my studies by pursuing the Special Honours Physics Degree. Another aspect in my favour was that at the time London University had for a few years in the early 1960s dropped the English ‘O’ level entry requirement for both internal and external students! This shows the role luck can often play in one’s education.

Overall the external degree required the same entry qualifications for all student applicants and the syllabuses were identical. The duration of study period for full-time students was shorter than for part-time students who obviously took longer. All the theory and practical classes were conducted at the College and delivered by the college staff. To complement and reinforce our studies the college offered a series of evening talks on specific scientific topics related to the course given by expert speakers. Finally guest speakers were invited to deliver lectures during the day sessions. In the last year students on the degree course occasionally went to London University to hear specialised lectures from University staff; then the audience comprised both external and internal students.

However students were required to take the Part 1 and the Finals practical examinations and Mathematics for Physics paper at London University. Students from Portsmouth and some overseas students attended Imperial College to take the practical examinations at the end of the second and third years. All the examinations were operated on an unseen basis meaning that the students had no idea of what was going to be asked.

I mention the unseen aspect as subsequently I was told by former internal students that they could often discern or guess what topics could be raised in the examinations from the emphasis their lecturers gave during their lectures. Whether this was true or not would be difficult to prove but after all the University staff did set the papers where as the college staff had no involvement in the examination process. In fact when I applied for post-graduate studies at other universities the admission tutors said how much they rated external degree graduates. Often they would reinforce that view by saying that the degree classification achieved by external students was one grade less than the internal students had gained because of this unseen aspect! Again I cannot verify this perception but the admission tutors quite openly stressed that possibility when extolling the value of the external degree.

The examination regime was quite challenging Part 1 comprised six theory papers plus a number of practical examinations taken in London. The Finals comprised a number of optional papers some with a mathematical emphasis and a six hour practical again taken in London. Even with these challenges I enjoyed the experience of taking an external degree that required a lot of private study and the need to cover the entire given syllabus. The teaching and support staff at Portsmouth were sympathetic and understanding of the problems that 11+ failures could experience. It is important to remember that it was still at that time a relatively rare occurrence for Secondary Modern school leavers to undertake further and higher studies.


(Subsequently Portsmouth College of Technology proved its academic credentials by becoming one of the leading Polytechnics and eventually gained University status in 1992). This progression surely validated its designation as an accredited centre for London University external degrees in the early 1960s.)


The Jargon Continues

The Jargon Continues

The world of education and training continues to bombard us with complex and often meaningless jargon and slogans avoiding more simplified meanings. Inspection agencies are particularly probe to seek sanctuary in jargon and slogans. The topic has also now invented its own jargon namely eduspeak, pedagogese and edutalk etc!

Term Simple meaning
Alternative provision Learning outside college
Buy in Agree with a proposal  etc.
Differentiation Using different approaches for different types of students
Deliverables Situations that can be realised/achieved
Drill down Analyse more closely
Engaged Work/collaborate with
Facing A meeting!
Going forward or moving forward Improving or progressing
Inclusivity Involves all
Intervention Offering extra support, guidance to students
It’s on my radar I am aware of it
Key metrics Important factors or indices
Learning ethos/environment Classrooms/laboratories
Leverage How situation/something can be manipulated or controlled
Performance management Setting targets for teachers/lecturers
Outcomes/Outcome-focused Results
Paradigm shift No idea what this means
Professional development Training
Pushing the envelope No idea -after all the envelope is still stationary/stationery! (Sorry)
Reaching out Let’s set up a meeting  or contact someone
Robust Good workable idea/proposal
Rubric It’s a check list
SWAT team Group of experts
Synergise Work effectively together in teams
Take it to the next level Improve
Thinking outside the box Be original
Thought leader No idea what this means!
360 degree evaluation Comprehensive review
Trailblazers Pilots
Transitionism Situations  are changing



Ayrton an interesting note

I am very grateful to Yasu. Shinohara, Senior Specialist, Ministry of Education, Sports, Science and Technology, Tokyo, Japan for sending this fascinating piece. We have worked together on issues associated with technical education in Japan and Britain. See biographies for more about Ayrton and his amazing achievements.


Fact File Ayrton 1


‘Memories of Mr Ayrton’


Mr Ayrton was a hard worker. He went to the laboratory even in Sundays to study. He

designed his own desk. There are many research publications he wrote with Mr John

Perry. That is why then it was said as if the centre of electronic engineering moved from

Britain to Japan. Mr Ayrton often got off the track during his lectures. Students did not

understand right away what important things he would tell, then we realised the

significance of his episodes later many times. Mr Ayrton always said to us, ‘Please don’t

copy someone else. You should not replicate something existed already. You must try to

make the thing better and discover something better.’ Mr Ayrton had been studying

until the very end of his Japan days. At that time he was studying about the ratio of

electrostatic unit to electromagnetic unit. On his way home, Mr Ayrton never stopped

the calculation and he got the result at Hong Kong, then he kindly sent it to Japan by

telegram. The followings are the questions Mr Ayrton gave us at a physics lesson.

  1. Can you add a line to a line?
  2. Can you subtract a line from a line?
  3. Can you multiply a line with a line?
  4. Can you divide a line by a line?



Editing society of the history of ICE, History of Imperial College of Engineering

[Kyu-koubu-daigakko-shiryo] (1931) pp.163-164. ‘Memories of Mr Ayrton’ extracted

from ‘The old days of the Imperial College of Engineering’


NAKAMURA Hachiro, The beginning and development of electric industry in Japan

[Denkijigyo-no-ransho-to-tenkaikatei] (United Nation University, 1982) p.7