Lord Baker, the former Education Minister, is now Chair of the Edge Foundation which exists to promote the value of vocational education. His recent conversion to the value of careers and work-related education is to be welcomed. As chief architect of England’s first National Curriculum, he notoriously ignored employer and local authority arguments for the inclusion of careers education. As the cahiers de doléance are to the French Revolution, Take Care, Mr. Baker!: The Advice on Education Reform Which the Government Collected But Concealed (edited by Julian Haviland) stands as a memorial to the long tradition of governments sacrificing careers education to some wider education agenda!
Lord Baker’s real passion these days is vocational education and the expansion of the University Technology College programme (50 approved and 17 already open). So, he now sees the value of starting careers and work-related education in the primary school to excite children’s interest in the possibilities of vocational education while they are still young. It is a necessary but insufficient rationale for early careers education but it’s a start!
He floats this and many other compelling ideas in The Skills Mismatch (March 2014) just published by the Edge Foundation charity which provides an up-to-date analysis of employment trends (especially highlighting graduate labour market problems) and skills shortages in the economy. In the report, Lord Baker challenges the notion of the hour-glass economy and the exaggerated claims made about the disappearance of middle ground jobs. He also makes suggestions as to how an increased emphasis on technical and vocational education could help tackle the problem of youth unemployment. One of the most telling sections of the report is his endorsement of Design and Technology provision in schools although he argues that too few students take GCSEs in the high-tech aspects of D&T. (You can read the Design and Technology Association’s response to the report at https://www.data.org.uk/news/lord-baker-backs-the-importance-of-dt/).
In parts of the report, Lord Baker seems to be content just to support the Government’s simplistic ‘inspirational talks by employers’ policy; but in one telling section he asserts that this is just not enough:
“It is essential for young people to have access to careers specialists with a full and up to date understanding of the labour market and pathways to success. In Scotland, careers guidance is recognised as ‘a distinct, defined and specialist profession which demands a unique set of core skills’. We must give the profession equal recognition in England.” (p.25)
Unlike present Ministers, he does see the need for a highly-professional cadre of career development professionals. It was just a shame that he did not highlight this conclusion in the report’s recommendations.
Download the report here