The government in the UK may be going back to the drawing board so to speak as far as young students are concerned after a review written by a panel led by Lord Sainsbury has recommended simplifying the current education system.

Acting on the report’s recommendations, government have published a Post-16 Skills Plan that says it will implement the panel’s proposals as far as budget allows.

The change most prominently discussed in the plan is the streamlining of the system by bringing the choice of available courses down from the existing 20,000 provided by 160 different organisations to 15 routes with standards set by industry professionals. The plan will also allow students the choice to take either technical or academic qualifications after GCSEs.

As reported by Jon Excell of The Engineer, the new reforms have been touted by the Royal Academy of Engineering as being the most significant transformation of post-16 education since A levels were introduced 70 years ago.

According to the review that called for the changes, young people considering a technical education today are presented with too many options and there is not enough of a connection between the workforce and students. The President of the Royal Academy of Engineering, Dame Ann Dowling, elaborated:

“We have argued for many years that the qualifications system in England is too complex and difficult to navigate for students and employers”.

The plans have been drawn up to increase productivity in the UK, with a sideways glance at the uncertainty surrounding England’s current political situation.

In a foreword to the published report, Nick Boles, the Minister of State for Skills, made the following comments:

“Technical education remains the poor relation of academic education. The choice of courses and qualifications can be confusing, and links to the world of work are not strong enough.”

Meanwhile, IET CEO Nigel Fine has commented on the plan, elaborating a bit on the climate that has led to the changes being deemed necessary:

“More crucially, we were anticipating a shortage of nearly 2 million engineers in the UK before any impact from Brexit, so the opportunity to reform technical education for the long term is absolutely critical.”

The announced changes have been positively received by industry leaders. As reported by Michael Stones of FoodManufacture.co.uk, the EEF’s director of employment and skills policy has said that the report has made a timely and important contribution to the debate on how to improve technical education. He stated that:

“The report rightly highlights the need for technical education to meet the needs of employers. Manufacturers want a skills system that is as responsive to their needs as they are to their customers.”

Meanwhile, Engineering UK Chief Executive Paul Jackson has also welcomed the changes and has claimed that even more government funding should go towards implementing wider initiatives in the same vein.

However, Dr. Mary Bousted, the Association of Teachers and Lecturers general secretary, has criticised the post-16 Skills plan by saying that it ignores tangible issues brought up by a recent House of Lords report titled ‘Overlooked and Left Behind’. She has said that the recent House of Lords report, “clearly articulated how young people who do not choose an academic route to university are disadvantaged, but the skills plan does not address the fundamental issues raised in that report.” Dr. Bousted rounded up her views:

“Forcing young people to choose the route to their future career at the age of 16 would institutionalise the divide between vocational and academic learning.”

For Nick Boles MP, however, the focus is on productivity and the fear that “international competitors” have moved “further ahead of us as a result” of having earlier “realised what it takes to ensure there is access to high-quality technical education”.