Vocational courses ‘leading young people into dead ends’

Too many vocational courses are of little value and are targeted at league tables rather than preparing young people for the world of work, according to the Government.

The Government today (3 March) published the Wolf report, the results of a review carried out by Professor Alison Wolf, professor of public sector management at King’s College London, which set out to analyse the effectiveness of vocational education in opening routes to work for young people.

The review found that up to 400,000 16- to 19-year-olds take vocational courses of little value, and also claims that many young people embark on qualifications without being fully informed about how they will improve their career prospects.

The report also claims that too many high-quality apprenticeships are being offered to older people rather than teenagers, a significant fact given current record levels of youth unemployment.

The Wolf report makes a number of proposals aimed at improving the vocational training landscape. These include:



  • Ensuring that anyone who fails to achieve at least a “C” grade in GCSE English or maths must continue to study those subjects after the age of 16.
  • Regulation moving away from qualification accreditation towards oversight of awarding bodies.
  • Allowing 14- to 16-year-olds to be enrolled in colleges to for vocational training.
  • Employers to be directly involved in quality assurance and assessment activities at local level.
  • Subsidising employers that offer 16- to 18-year-old apprentices high-quality, off-the-job training, and an education with broad transferable elements.

Professor Wolf said: “The system is complex, expensive and counterproductive. The funding and accountability systems create perverse incentives to steer students into inferior courses. We have many vocational qualifications that are great and institutions which are providing an excellent education and are heavily oversubscribed. But we also have hundreds of thousands of young people taking qualifications that have little or no value.

“We must change course to give everyone a fair chance of a good education and a good job.”

Education secretary Michael Gove said he would now consider how best to implement Wolf’s recommendations. “Millions of children have been misled into pursuing courses which offer little hope,” he said.

“We must fix the system to give all children the chance of these high-quality courses. We will reform league tables, the funding system, and regulation to give children honest information and access to the right courses.”

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