I would secure all-party support to launch a ten-year programme to spread technical education throughout the whole education system.
One of the biggest challenges for the next government is to fill the skills gap: by 2020 we will need 830,000 STEM graduates and 450,000 technicians and engineers at levels 3 and 4. The institutions in our country today will not be able to do that without a fundamental reform.
In 1945 we had 300 technical schools: these were killed by snobbery and buried by the comprehensive movement. A huge mistake that Germany did not make.
The key is that technical education should start at 14 and continue to 19. We have made a start with university technical colleges (UTCs) — 30 open and 30 preparing to open — that already have 6,700 students, rising to 15,000 next year and, when full, 36,000.
I believe that students can learn by doing as well as studying. The object is to train “intelligent hands”, a phrase borrowed from the Industrial Revolution. In UTCs students spend two days a week designing, making and working in teams on projects.
A university and local employers plan and implement the technical curriculum, and come in to help with teaching, passing their practical experience on to the students. The UTC target is to have no young person who is not in education, employment, or training. So far they have met it: no student has joined the ranks of the unemployed on leaving their UTC.
Eighteen months ago we launched career colleges. They follow the same model as UTCs but extend it into non-STEM subjects such as catering, hospitality, creative arts, professional services, health and social care.
Three are now open; as an indication of rapid progress the Bromley Career College in Hospitality, Food and Enterprise launched its student-led restaurant, BR6, in February. It has 60 students and expects to enrol more than 120 this September.
I would like to see more co-operation between the 4,000 academies, working in clusters of, say, two or three secondary schools alongside a UTC and a career
college. This would secure a more suitable education for many students and make significant cost savings.
UTCs and career colleges provide clear pathways of success just as compelling as three A-levels and a university degree. Indeed, over a working lifetime, many technical students will earn as much as their contemporaries who chose the university route.
Lord Baker is co-founder of the Baker Dearing Educational Trust and author of 14-18: A New Vision for Secondary Education (Bloomsbury, 2013)