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Government`s education plans get a mixed reception

01 February, 2005

Government`s education plans get a mixed reception

The Government`s recent White Paper on the reform of the 14-19 education system, has provoked mixed reaction in the engineering community. According to the manufacturers` body, the EEF, the Government has missed the opportunity to engage in genuine reform of the 14-19 curriculum and to give real value to vocational education. On the other hand, the IEE (the Institution of Electrical Engineers) has welcomed the White Paper, saying that it recognises that good quality vocational skills, particularly in engineering and software development, are every bit as demanding and relevant as traditional academic achievement.

EEF director general, Martin Temple, says that the Government has "failed to make the grade" as far as manufacturers are concerned. "Despite the [White Paper`s] laudible aims," he feels that Government "has missed the chance for genuine reform and to introduce an integrated approach to academic and vocational education.

"The debate about replacing A levels and GCSEs has completely missed the point in that Tomlinson`s recommendations would have allowed the current qualifications to remain but placed them within a wider diploma," Temple continues. "In concentrating on this issue, the government has set its aspirations too low and these plans will still undervalue the vocational route."

However, the EEF has welcomed the Government`s commitment to improve the basics of maths and English, as well as the fact that engineering is one of the first four subjects to be included in the fourteen lines of learning. It has also welcomed the Government`s commitment to the full involvement of employers.

The EEF believes that the current system of careers advice and guidance needs urgent reform. "If the system is going to be changed to give students a far wider range of options, then careers advice and guidance must ensure that the full range is clearly explained to them at a far earlier stage," says Temple.

For the IEE, Dorrie Giles, the Institution`s director of qualifications, welcomes "the Government`s recognition of the importance of vocational courses and that they need to be supported by strong maths skills. Engineering needs the brightest people and they have to have a strong grounding in science and mathematics, whether they choose the vocational or academic route. Those taking the vocational route to HE will need to develop their mathematical skills through A-Levels as suggested by Ruth Kelly, or by taking appropriate mathematics units."

The lack of technical, intermediate and graduate-level engineering skills, essential for a healthy economy, is having a major impact on UK productivity, the IEE points out.

Engineering, it says, is an esteemed subject at university and engineering graduates are in very high demand not just in design and manufacturing but also in many other areas of business and industry, where their analytical, numerical and problem-solving skills make them highly employable.

"It`s good that the Government has recognised that there are many routes into engineering and that vocational routes are just as strong," comments Professor David Howard, chairman of the IEE`s education sector panel. "However, it is essential that we have appropriately qualified specialist staff in secondary and further education, with up-to-date teaching material and support for continuing professional development."

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