I’ve been around in politics a while and few things surprise me anymore. But I’ve just seen the Tories’ response to Labour’s new proposals on modernising our education system, and I have to say I’m genuinely shocked at how out of touch they are. They have actually said that our proposals will leave “millions of state school pupils unemployable”. It shows that at a time when we have a million young people unemployed they have no idea what young people need to get into skilled jobs – they’re happy to write them off.
In his conference speech, Ed Miliband will be setting out bold reforms to modernise our education system and improve what we offer to our young children at 18. Central to this is a new, rigorous Technical Baccalaureate – a gold standard vocational qualification sitting alongside A-levels. In addition, all young people will have to do English and Maths to 18, as well as work experience. You’d think the Tories would want to engage with this. They don’t.
It speaks volumes about the Tories that their response doesn’t even mention vocational education, let alone point to a single policy of theirs in this area. People who take vocational education simply aren’t their concern.
The truth is that Michael Gove has been focused on the wrong thing – tweaking exams at 16. In a world where all will stay on until 18, we need to focus on rigour from 14 to 18, including making sure we offer an option to our young people that offers a passport to a high quality apprenticeship.
Second, the Tories are trying to suggest that they are also focused on English and Maths up to 18. But this is simply false. The Tories have merely said that young people who don’t get a C at GCSE will have to do resits. This is not nearly ambitious enough for our young people in a world where pupils will stay in education until 18.
But the real shocker is the Tories saying the current system leaves millions of state school pupils “unemployable”. How callous. And how revealing about their attitudes to youth unemployment. They would have us think it’s young people’s fault they can’t get a job, when we’re in the longest double dip recession since the Second World War. How out of touch can you get? With attitudes like this it’s clear the Tories can’t change Britain. Not just because they don’t have the ideas to do so, but because they don’t understand what’s wrong with it.
Michael Gove shouldn’t be writing off millions of our young people as unemployable. He should be apologising to them.
Stephen Twigg MP is Labour’s Shadow Education Secretary