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Howard: New status for vocational education

Speech in Nottingham

"I am delighted to be here this afternoon in Nottingham at the Djanogly City Academy.

My driving ambition is to give people real opportunity - the opportunity to make a success of their life.

And education is the key to all opportunity.

I know.

I come from an ordinary family. My parents ran a clothes shop in Llanelli. We didn't have any special privileges. But we were lucky enough to live in a town with a first class state school.

At Llanelli Grammar School, discipline was at a premium. Teachers were respected. We all learnt the basics. Ambition, excellence and hard work were encouraged. It was the best start any child could have in life.

Fifty years on, I want everyone to have that quality of education.

When I travel round the country, perhaps the most heartbreaking sight I see is the children who've dropped out of school. Youngsters going off the rails - each of them a story of lost opportunity, but also a warning of the kind of country Britain will become if we don't change direction.

Let's be clear - the quality of Britain's education system today, will determine our success as a society tomorrow.

If children don't learn respect for authority in class, they're much less likely to respect others when they grow up.

If youngsters aren't taught to read or write properly at school, they'll find it that much tougher to get a job when they leave - so the chances of their getting into crime are that much higher.

And if British companies can't recruit employees with the right skills, they'll find it even harder to compete.

One the tragedies of our education system is that we have overvalued the importance of an academic qualification at the expense of a technical or practical skill. It is not a mistake that countries like Germany have made.

I believe this is one of the root causes of truancy. If youngsters who know they are never going to make it to university cannot learn a practical skill, should we be surprised when they get angry and frustrated with an inflexible academic curriculum which seems only to highlight their failings?

It's time to end that snobbery. Further Education should no longer be the forgotten garden of the education world. Our education system must recognise that every person is different, with different aptitudes, skills and ambitions.

A skilled craftsman, an accomplished electrician, a capable plumber - these are people our society needs.

Ask anyone whom they would value most: a good lawyer or a good plumber?

And I can tell you - as a lawyer - what their answer would be. And it's not my profession.

The way to build esteem for these professions is to raise the quality and standard of education that the system provides. Then everyone knows that a young person who has chosen a vocational route, and come out of it with flying colours, is talented, skilled and proficient.

In our manifesto - which we published on Monday - we said that "vocational education does not have the status it deserves".

Today I want to explain how we are going to give it that status - the action we will take:

¿ We will establish a network of skills Super Colleges

¿ We will provide them with extra funding by abolishing the Learning Skills Council and a whole raft of centrally-directed initiatives and regulation

¿ We will enable 14 and 15 year olds to start on a vocational path from school and let FEs provide specialist courses for them.

Detailed plans.

Detailed action.

A timetable for action.

A government that will do what it says.

Governments make a difference when their values are the same as the broad mainstream of the country.

I want everyone, whatever their background or the colour of their skin, to have the chance to make a success of their chosen career; the opportunity for people to fulfil their ambitions; and the opportunity for children to have a better life than their parents.

Education is, for me, more than a policy area, it's a passion. A passion rooted deep in my own experience - my own education.

I know that every child is good at something. The challenge of education is to unlock the individual talents that each child has within them.

So I say to parents - whatever your background, however you've voted for in the past: if you want a school that will insist on proper discipline in the classroom; if you want a school that will stretch and motivate its pupils irrespective of their ability; if you want a school that does your child proud - come and join us."

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