In his speech at the annual UK Labour party conference, party leader Ed Miliband will be making a commitment to draw on his own state school background to guide his education policy. To the party faithful, Miliband promises that he will reform the academic system that he sees as failing nearly half of British youth that currently provides a second-rate vocational education of little use of the country’s employers.
At the conference to be held in Manchester, Miliband will say that unlike the plan put forward by the Tory party, which he deems as targeting “a narrower and narrower elite,” Labour wants to work to provide a real alternative to those who don’t end up going to university after graduating from secondary school. And in contrast to the educational initiative championed by Tony Blair meant to increase the percentage of British students enrolling in university, Miliband is instead calling for improvement in vocational education offered to students between the ages of 14 and 18.
Repeatedly drawing on his own experience at a London comprehensive – implicitly contrasting his own schooling with the Eton-educated David Cameron’s – he will say that although for a quarter of a century children successful at exams have found the world open up, for the remainder school has offered very little and they have found themselves written off.
His schooling at Haverstock school in north London taught him “a lot more than just how to pass exams”, he will say. “It taught people how to get on with each other, whoever they are and wherever they’re from. I will always be grateful because I know I would not be standing here today as leader of the Labour party without my comprehensive school education.”
Miliband’s background as a son of Jewish immigrants escaping from Nazi-occupied Europe will play a part in drawing a distinction between him and Cameron. He said that he owes his position today to the tolerance, understanding and support of his countrymen during the time his family struggled to establish itself. He said that his background played a part in understanding the needs of today’s students looking for a clear vocational path towards a good job and a career — something that will serve as the goal for a new qualification for 18-year-olds called the Technical Baccalaureate.
In order to make sure that multiple paths are available to those who obtain the new qualification, it will also require a study of mathematics and English until students turn 18.
He will also propose a German style shakeup of post-18 apprenticeships, in which companies, on an industry or regional basis, can sign legally enforceable agreements requiring all participating firms to pay a levy to cover the cost of training, so – ending the scourge of freeloading companies refusing to pay the costs of apprenticeships, but stealing skilled staff from firms that do train.
He will also give businesses control of the £1bn budget of the Skills Agency.