Press release

Tech Awards to boost vocational education for 14- to 16-year-olds

The government announces rigorous technical qualifications that can be studied for alongside GCSEs.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

Repairing an aeroplane

We are putting in place new standards for vocational qualifications that are on a par with GCSEs. These new, rigorous and demanding Technical Awards will have to meet specifications so they properly prepare young people for the world of work, Skills and Enterprise Minister Matthew Hancock announced today (18 June 2014).

The qualifications for 14- to 16-year-olds will have to meet tough new criteria on employer value, marking them out as gold-standard qualifications. They will allow pupils to study real-life practical and technical skills that are used in daily life and can act as a starting point for a future career.

The government has already removed thousands of low-quality vocational qualifications for 14- to 16-year-olds, ensured qualifications are rigorously assessed and graded and introduced employer-led rigorous qualifications.

Now the government is going further by introducing Technical Awards, which have a higher requirement for external assessment and command the respect of employers, meaning young people can be sure they are rigorous and valuable. Pupils can study up to 3 Technical Awards alongside a minimum of 5 core GCSEs, which will ensure strong grounding in core skills like English and maths alongside vocational options.

Developed in partnership with employers they will offer opportunities to develop knowledge and practical skills that are essential in our growing economy. Previously, courses were offered to students with no indication that they would lead to further training and on to employment.

From September 2015, Technical Awards will be the first step on a new vocational route available to young people through from the ages of 14 to 19:

  • for 14- to 16-year-olds, pupils will be able to study Technical Awards alongside GCSEs
  • for 16- to 19-year-olds, alongside or instead of A levels, students will be able to study Tech Levels -Tech Levels can be studied as part of the TechBacc, which also comprises an advanced maths qualification and extended research project
  • after completing school and college, young people will be ready for an advanced apprenticeship, university or skilled employment

Skills and Enterprise Minister Matthew Hancock said:

Previously, young people were encouraged to study meaningless qualifications completely unrelated to their lives or the rapidly changing world of work.

Technical Awards will give students the opportunity to learn practical skills which are valued by employers from the age of 14 and are recognised in the school performance tables. They can be studied alongside core GCSEs and offer a crucial first step towards securing a high-quality vocational education.

Improving vocational and technical education is a critical part of our long-term economic plan which will deliver the best possible schools and skills for our young people, so everyone can reach their potential.

Previously, the development of practical skills for 14- to 16-year-olds was too narrowly focused on abstract theory.

This has changed so that pupils could now:

  • in woodwork, measure, cut, joint and finish their own piece of furniture - previously they may have just studied the design of a chair
  • in textiles, students may now design and make an outfit from start to finish using a range of dressmaking or tailoring techniques - previously they may have just analysed the impact of changing technology on dress making
  • in electronics, use motion detectors, batteries and microprocessors to wire movement-controlled lighting - previously they may have just analysed a light to see how it functions.

The announcement of Technical Awards marks the final stage of reform of vocational education for 14- to 16-year-olds.

Following on from Professor Alison Wolf’s ground-breaking recommendations for improving vocational education, the government has:

  • cut down the number of vocational qualifications for 14- to 16-year-olds which count in league tables from 3,175 to 186 high-quality options
  • ensured that non-GCSE qualifications include rigorous assessment and grading
  • replaced qualifications that focus on specific skills that are inappropriate for 14- to 16-year-olds with qualifications developed in partnership with employers, that offer depth and rigour
  • announced the new Progress 8 league table measure, based on students’ progress across 8 subjects including English and maths, it will encourage schools to offer a broad and balanced curriculum at key stage 4 - including Technical Awards

Today the government is also announcing new vocational qualifications for 16- to 19-year-olds who wish to progress immediately into a skilled trade, or who wish to progress to a related Tech Level. The new Substantial Vocational Qualifications at level 2 will provide students seeking entry at a more basic level to a skilled trade or occupation with qualifications that are valued by employers.

They will meet tough new criteria, including rigorous assessment arrangements and a requirement for employers to be involved, for example through work placements or projects set by industry practitioners.

The first 7 schools and colleges to offer pupils the new TechBacc performance measure were also announced today. The TechBacc is gained when 16- to 19-year-olds achieve real-life technical skills, firmly grasping mathematics, and completing an in-depth industry research project.

They are:

School name Details
Archbishop Holgate’s School, in York Ranked the number 1 school nationally for vocational A level qualifications, will deliver Tech Level qualifications in art and design, IT and engineering as part of the TechBacc programme.
Barnet and Southgate College in North London One of the largest colleges in North London. Students studying Tech Levels in engineering, motor sport vehicle technology, IT, construction, and health and social care will be able to take part in the TechBacc programme.
Blackpool Sixth-Form College in Lancashire This school will offer the TechBacc in engineering, IT and creative media production.
Blessed George Napier School and Sixth Form in Banbury, Oxfordshire This school will deliver Tech Level qualifications in travel and tourism and IT as part of the TechBacc Trailblazer. The extended project qualification is already mandatory for all students in the sixth form. Travel and tourism students will work with local employers and study trends in tourism.
Brockenhurst College in the New Forest, Hampshire This school will offer up to 60 students the opportunity to study a Tech Level in engineering. This Tech Level has been recognised by the Engineering Council, the Engineers Professors’ Council, the Royal Academy of Engineering and Leibherr, a leading manufacturing firm.
South Cheshire College, in Crewe Students studying Tech Level qualifications in IT and engineering will be offered the opportunity to complete all 3 components of the TechBacc. The college already has a well-established and successful careers academy, which offers students the chance to have closer links with business and industry, including a 6 week paid internship with a local business in Cheshire
Warwickshire College in Leamington Spa This school will focus its TechBacc activities on a Tech Level qualification in manufacturing engineering. The college aligns its curriculum with the needs of the local economy and the Coventry and Warwickshire LEP.

Notes to editors

  1. Read the technical guidance for Technical Awards.
  2. Read the technical guidance for Substantial Level 2 Vocational Qualifications.
  3. View research identifying good practice in the involvement of employers in qualifications.

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Published 18 June 2014