The Wolf Review of Vocational Education Contents


Examination of Witness (Questions 1-57)

Chair: Good morning, Professor Wolf. Thank you very much for joining us today and many congratulations on your report. I don’t think I have ever seen a report so well received by Ministers as was yours. I hope your report has more success than Budgets—they say that if they are received well on the day they are given, they do less well afterwards.

Professor Wolf: That does worry me slightly I have to say, but thank you.

Q1 Chair: The Government responded immediately and accepted four of your recommendations. Can you give us an idea of the feeling from Government as to how they are responding to your report?

Professor Wolf: Obviously, I do not know what they are going to accept and what they are not. Obviously, I hope that they are going to accept lots, but I don’t know what they are going to accept. I do know that they decided to provide a fairly in-depth response and this has involved both the DFE and BIS, and presumably other parts of Government which you will know more about than I do. So the answer is: I am not sure when it is coming out. I hope it is coming out soon and I do know that it will be a fairly in-depth response when it comes. Beyond that, you have ask the Department and Ministers.

Q2 Chair: It is clearly important to society that we have skilled, qualified people in technical, practical and vocational professions. Do you think the Government’s increased focus on traditional academic subjects—for example, through the English Baccalaureate—means that vocational education will continue to be seen as the poorer sibling to academic study? How will your report change that?

Professor Wolf: As anybody who has read it will know, I believe very strongly that a good academic education is the most important vocational preparation that anybody in the world can have today—even more than it was in the past. Therefore, it is important to think about the curriculum in the broad, rather than thinking about it in terms of a vocational track that means that you are not doing academic preparation. One of the things that I have said extremely strongly and, I hope, repeatedly, is that we, as a nation, have no business putting young people on to tracks that are,even if they are not a dead end in the sense of not leading to anything, completely sealed off, so that people are making decisions at the age of 13 or 14 that cannot be reversed. I feel that extremely strongly because of the nature of the modern labour market, as well as because of the aspirations of young people and their families. So I do not think there is any conflict between insisting on a strong academic core and, at the same time, making it easy and encouraging people to do genuine vocational subjects and specialisations as they progress through the education system. I do not actually accept this as a sort of the one or the other. In that sense, in my report—curiously enough, I thought I would get criticised on this actually—in a way I say more specifically about what I think should be done academically than I do about the vocational content. Vocational content has to be extremely varied—it has to respond to the labour market in which people are operating and to their localities. My own view is that the single most important thing that we can do for young people is to make sure that none of them leave school without good English and maths skills, and everything else is secondary to that. That is because without those they are actually blocked from progress in the labour market.

Q3 Chair: Your report suggests that there is no evidence that doing vocational courses can help and boost learning across various topics. There is some evidence internationally that that is not the case and that more applied learning can in fact engage young people more effectively and improve their literacy and numeracy.

Professor Wolf: The problem is not that it cannot, but that it is not a magic bullet. There is a tendency—I think we all do this—to respond to good experiences. If you have run something where you have given good practical experiences to kids and they have done well and it has motivated them, then you tend to generalise from your own experience—as we all do—and think, well, the more of this that we can do the better. But you would do the same thing if you had done wonderful drama with young people. Again, to talk of my own anecdotal experience, I can think of a school I used to know quite well that worked with very disturbed young people and what it did was absolutely amazing, amazing theatre. The point is that just sticking a label on something does not mean that it automatically works as a way of motivating young people or providing them with skills. The literacy and numeracy one is very interesting, because it is one of those classic examples where the best can be the enemy of the good. If you have people who are simply fantastic at integrating literacy and numeracy into the practical programmes that they are delivering, yes of course it can be wonderful. The reality, however, which is something that I have been observing for rather a long time now, is that if you just say, well the answer is to integrate literacy and numeracy, in most cases it gets integrated to the point of completely vanishing. There is no sign that it ever took place, either when you observe the programme or when you observe the skills of the people coming out. So I would like to take the opportunity to underline that, when I say there is no evidence that putting young people into programmes labelled “vocational” is the answer to disaffection or lack of motivation, I don’t mean that they should never go into such programmes. I mean that what motivates people are good programmes, and different people are motivated differently. The idea that just because you are causing mayhem in your institution or your home life is a mess you should automatically be steered towards something vocational—in the rather pejorative sense of the word—is something we should fight very hard.

Q4 Chair: But isn’t it more a thinking that, if you are kicking off or have a problem, it’s because the education that has been provided for you isn’t meeting your needs? So the aim is to produce something which re-engages the young person—not shoving them down a vocational track. It is actually finding something they find interesting, stimulating and relevant and therefore will inspire them to get engaged and find value in themselves and in their learning.

Professor Wolf: But ultimately, that is likely to have a lot more to do with the teaching in the programme than with the label and formal content. I was actually very convinced of this by some of the evidence that I was given. Perhaps for the people who didn’t plough through the whole report, I could refer to two things that I looked at. The first was that we looked on a national scale to see whether there was any evidence that taking more vocational options pre-16 had a positive impact on whether people stayed on, how well they did or how long they stayed on post-16. At that level , which is what I mean about the very general level, there was nothing coming through. I also had a lot of positive submissions about people who had set up very good programmes where they would say, quite rightly, that this worked wonderfully for these kids. I also took very seriously a big study that was done by some people at Nottingham Trent, when they were looking at programmes provided for young people who were excluded or at risk of exclusion. They were being sent on a whole range of supposedly vocational programmes. There were two things that they emphasised. One was the disjunction very often between the programme as described by the people running it and the programme as described by the young people on it. There is one that I love in which he says, “Yeah, well, there was a lot of digging.” The other point the researchers made very forcibly was that many of these young people, although they had very disturbed home lives and were having great behavioural difficulties, were not academic failures or potential academic failures. They had real aspirations and their families had real aspirations for them. They wanted to stay on the academic track; they wanted to be able to go on and do A-levels. What was wrong for them was not that it was an academic curriculum: it was the school, the programme or their home lives. You couldn’t and shouldn’t look at these kids and say, “Oh, they can’t cope with an academic programme. They need to be sent on to something vocational”. That does not mean that some kids would not be far happier outside any classroom in a workplace. They may come back later. I do not think it is a blanket solution, and too many people seem to think that it is.

Q5 Chair: Yet you have come out with a blanket prescription that, before 16, no more than 20% of the curriculum should be spent on vocational pursuits. This goes completely against Lord Baker’s university technical colleges, which specifically look at having 60:40 and want to have tailored, high-quality teaching, backing and engagement with employers. Why prescribe percentages, when the picture is mixed, and try to impose them when people are trying to find ways forward to improve education?

Professor Wolf: I asked a wide range of head teachers how much of a normal school week it would take them to deliver what they felt was the core—one where you were not forcing young people to make choices that would block them later. They uniformly said they could do it in four days or a bit less. As long as you had, of a normal school week, about 80% of a common core, you were not forcing any pre-emptive choices on kids. They could go in all sorts of directions afterwards, and that still left you with it. That is where is the 80:20 comes from. If you, of course, have a longer school week, you can do more of the other things. Going back to what Lord Baker has said to me, he said that he can actually deliver the common core and still do 60:40, because he proposes a much longer school week and a much longer school year. I was actually quite careful with what I said, because I said that, in the context of a normal school week, which I would assume is what this Government and this country can afford to go on funding for the foreseeable future, that is about the balance. Now, I have no idea whether that will be accepted, and I certainly was not saying that it must be done in all circumstances—there is always this wonderful word “normally”—but that is where it comes from. It comes from asking a large number of heads and experienced teachers how much of the school week they need to deliver the basic core, and the answer was that if you have four days, you can do it easily.

Q6 Chair: Do you agree with Lord Baker that your vision is entirely in line with that of the UTCs?

Professor Wolf: I think and hope that my vision is in line with a wide variety of provision. Basically, I said that I would like us to develop a system in which there is room for innovation and room for responsiveness to local conditions. I would like a combination of a common core up to age 16, at the very least, in which everybody has an opportunity to progress and in which it is much easier than it is at the moment for institutions to be responsive to local circumstances and to the local labour market. That means that I am going to be cheering for anything that falls into that broad vision.

Q7 Chair: So, you are a big enthusiast for UTCs then?

Professor Wolf: I am not going to sit here and say that I am big enthusiast for any particular institution, because that was not my remit. My remit was to set out a set of principles—

Q8 Chair: Do you have any particular qualms about UTCs?

Professor Wolf: I have no qualms about any institution that meets the set of criteria that I have set out, which involves not forcing 14-year-olds on to tracks that they cannot come off, making sure that, up to age 16, they have a good common core and also ensuring that, when they do vocational options, it is with high-quality equipment and true professional teaching. I am going to cheer for anything that falls within that set of criteria.

Q9 Ian Mearns: Good morning, Professor Wolf. Your report focuses very strongly on reform of existing qualifications. Do you believe that that is where the solution to vocational education lies? Or, from your perspective, is there a more deep-rooted set of problems with the status and nature of vocational education?

Professor Wolf: I think the answer is the second, not the former. I think that we do have a problem with the nature of vocational qualifications, partly because we have time and time again tried to drive the system by fiddling with the qualifications. Unfortunately, that also means that if the Government accept my recommendations then they are likely to change again, because I have argued for far less central specification of every detail. However, I think that, in a sense, this was a mis-specification of the problem in that, because we are a country that uses qualifications so much, we think that whenever anything is wrong the answer is to fiddle with the qualifications. I actually don’t think that that is the case. In fact, there is a slight back-to-the-future thing in that actually I think that vocational qualifications worked rather better before we started nationalising them, trying to tidy them up and trying to set every single nature of the clause in stone. I think that the basic problem has been that we have tried to specify far too much from the centre. We thought that we could actually say exactly which qualification should be offered. We haven’t allowed for enough bottom-up development, and we have tried to do too much quality control through the qualification structure. Again, I said that, like everybody else, I tend to get influenced by anecdotes, and one of the most interesting and useful things that I did during the course of this review was that I had the opportunity to go to Denmark, which was not a country that I knew before. Mostly in this country, when we go and look at vocational education, we go and look at Germany, but I went to Denmark, which has a very fine system and which is where, post-16, a lot of young people go into apprenticeship-type programmes. When talking to the people who are running some of these, as opposed to people in the Ministry, one thing they kept saying time and time again is, “These programmes work to the degree that our local employers are happy. Our quality assurance comes from our local employers. Our local employers are in here doing the examining, and that’s why this system is working.” I think that we have tried to do far too much quality control and far too much through what is, at the end of the day, a set of specifications on a piece of paper. Sometimes it’s an exam, and sometimes it’s a set of requirements about how you assess, but that’s only a very small part of the process, and I think we have overweighted it.

Q10 Ian Mearns: For some young people, being in education is a struggle. There’s no doubt about that. Do you think that, for those youngsters who quite often struggle in education, your recommendations will provide a situation where they can succeed in something, as opposed to fail at everything?

Professor Wolf: I hope so. I have said quite explicitly that I think schools, colleges and training providers should be much freer to offer what they want. They know the students that they have. I think there are some things where—and this is why I keep going back to English and maths—there are standards, and I actually believe very strongly that, although some people take longer to get there, there is no reason why they can’t. Again, the Government may not listen, but I’m slightly unpersuadable on that one. In other respects, however, I think you are absolutely right. One thing that I hope very much—again, without having any idea whether this would be the case—is that, 10 years from now, it will be much easier for people to go in and out of education with an entitlement. So, when people are ready to come back and they have had some work experience, they have got themselves a bit of confidence and they can see the point of it, they can come back and take the things that they want. Kids do struggle, yes. Part of the problem is that a lot of them find life very difficult when they are 16 and 17. It would be wonderful to wave a wand and make that not the case, but we are asking these life-determining things of them at a time when a lot of them are finding life really tough.

Q11 Ian Mearns: From your perspective, isn’t part of the problem the fact that the institutions are paid by results, so they have to get these youngsters qualifications in something?

Professor Wolf: Yes.

Q12 Ian Mearns: Do you regard that as part of the problem? Recommendations 2 and 12 in your report stand rather at odds with your desire to rid the system of its meaningless qualifications? Why would a college or employer ever offer a qualification that hadn’t been approved by somebody higher up at some time?

Professor Wolf: Recommendations 2 and 12 are about not having the system we have at the moment, where you can only offer something that has gone though this enormous, supposed quality-assurance process, which is basically paper-based and, in my view, largely pointless. My own feeling is that there are things that are really important and then, beyond that, you should leave it to the providers, the young people, and the local labour market. That’s what those are about. As you say, there is also the problem that, at the moment, we have this system whereby you get paid by results, and if you are running a college, you basically can’t afford to have people fail. That’s a really bad situation to be in. We have it to some degree in universities, but not to the extent that colleges do. Actually, it’s utterly destructive. Nobody wants kids to fail. I can’t imagine any situation in which somebody who is running a college would want that, and this is a competitive situation, in which you want to have a good reputation. You want people to want to come to you, and you want people to send their kids to you, so you are not going to intentionally put everybody in for things that they can fail. However, that’s very different from having a situation where you are effectively forced to only put people in for things that you’re sure they can pass. Again, I have absolutely no idea whether something will happen, but I think that for reasons that are historical—and I understand how we got there—we have a funding system that is really bad for standards. It is not just bad for standards, however. It is bad for the guidance we give to kids and it stops people from thinking in terms of coherent policies. I’ve actually hated it for years, so this was a chance to sound off about it. I totally agree with you that it is a major part of the problem.

Q13 Tessa Munt: I want to concentrate on the English Baccalaureate. You said that young people shouldn’t be placed in tracks which they cannot leave, and last year, I think you also talked about letting individuals decide what learning might suit them best. I wondered what your view was of the English Baccalaureate against that background.

Professor Wolf: Obviously, again, I am an individual. There are two things. First, is there any conflict between what I am suggesting and having an English Baccalaureate? No, there isn’t, in the sense that it fits in perfectly easily. You can do the English Bac subjects in less than four days, so it’s not like there is a head-on clash. Secondly, I think the most important thing—this is an answer; it’s just a slightly roundabout one—in the way that you give guidance to and have accountability measures for schools is that you don’t have a single measure. We know this from everywhere, not just schools; we know it from the health service. If you have a single measure, which is the only thing that anybody cares about, it has absolutely appalling effects because people game it and they only care about the people around the margin. We’ve had this with five A to Cs; it’s hopeless for the ones who won’t make any and it’s hopeless for the ones who make it easily. The most important thing is that you don’t have a single measure. I am actually heartened by the fact that, in the White Paper, the Government have said quite clearly that they will have multiple measures. I hope they will take seriously the suggestion in my report that among the summary measures that you have there should be measures that take account of the full distribution, so you’re looking at how well institutions do by those who are struggling and by those who are finding academic subjects easy. Given those provisos, I have no personal problem with the English Baccalaureate at all. It seems to me just to cover the subjects that, to be honest, most parents thought most kids were doing anyway. We have a problem with something like this only if it becomes the only thing that people care about. On the question of having people choose what suits them best, I believe in this combination of a core where we tell people, “We think these are important, and if you want to ignore it, that’s fine, but you’d better be aware that the labour market doesn’t,” and an outside area where people are much freer to choose. Again, this is very personal, but I hope very much that the new curriculum review will leave space for a lot of things around a core. This is nothing whatsoever to do with me; this is just my own personal view. We have to take a core seriously. We force young people to be in school, so we must therefore feel that we know something that they might not, and that we are justified in making them stay there even when they might prefer to be doing other things. One of the main justifications for that has to be that we know from experience and from research that they need certain things if they are going to have satisfying and productive lives, and that there are things that the labour market demands. It seems to me that it is a duty of Government to make that clear: if there are things that they believe, on the basis of evidence, every young person should be doing, because if they don’t they are going to be seriously disadvantaged in later life. That seems to me the only justification for forcing all these kids to be in classrooms year after year anyway. The English Baccalaureate is not something that says, “Everybody has to do these”, but I believe that there is this combination of things that young people should not be giving up before they are 16, because they can’t come back. That’s a fairly solid minimum, and around that people should be allowed to do things that follow their tastes and interests, provided they are given good information about what they lead to.

Q14 Tessa Munt: You mentioned maths and English as being two of the very core subjects. Can I have your view on the other ones?

Professor Wolf: On what else I personally think everybody should be doing? It is absolutely a personal view because, as I said, there is a curriculum review going on at the moment, which presumably will have all sorts of informed views. My own core would be maths, English and science, but that is a completely personal response.

Q15 Tessa Munt: Does that take us to three sciences or one?

Professor Wolf: No; at that point I am baling out, because I have no informed views on this whatsoever. You can get me on to maths, but probably another morning because otherwise you’ll never get me out of here. Science and maths are difficult, in the sense of how you organise them—I can talk about maths with some expertise—because they cover a wide range of functions. In maths, for example, in the same age group you have people who are future mathematicians; people who are progressing to occupations in which they will need a very high level of maths; people who are progressing to a life in which hopefully they will use maths at a reasonable level, but it won’t be a central part of their later study; and a sizeable proportion of the population who just find maths very difficult. That always makes the maths curriculum a nightmare. My sensation is that science is a bit the same, but I am not an expert. I should probably stop there.

Q16 Neil Carmichael: Do you think there is a danger that the English Baccalaureate might become the summit of ambition for too many students when they could, and should, be achieving more?

Professor Wolf: It goes back to my previous point, which I hope the Government will take very seriously. If the English Baccalaureate becomes the only thing by which schools are measured, like any other single measure, it would be a bad thing. I can’t say that often enough. I do think that happened with five A to Cs. One of the real problems with it was that, in too many cases, if you were a school and you knew somebody would get five Bs without any effort on your part, they were not a priority, and they couldn’t be a priority, because if you are running a school or a college, your job is to make that school or college successful by the measures by which it is judged. You owe it to the people in the school or college and to your staff. There are times when I might think that schools and colleges haven’t done everything that they could, but when you lay down a single measure, you have created that response and it is your fault—I am speaking hypothetically. The danger with anything is that it becomes a single measure. If the English Baccalaureate were the only measure, there would be exactly the same danger as when all that anybody cared about was five A to Cs.

Q17 Tessa Munt: Can I take you a little step further? If we are going from 16 to 17 to 18, should we, therefore, have an English ABac—something that goes a bit further? There will be people who need to do more than just check that the change is correct when they’re giving it from the till. Should we pursue that a bit further up to 18?

Professor Wolf: As you know, one of the things that I have said is that, if it is accepted, it is going to be hard enough work to find good teachers. So it is one thing at a time. People without GCSE English and maths A to C at 16 should not give them up. They should continue, although not necessarily directly into a resit. I want to log that fact, because I am not saying that week one of the next autumn term they should go to resit class. I said that because it is one of the critical hurdles that people have to get over. Just getting that done across the country will be enough of a challenge, because we have an acute shortage of maths teachers. So it is about doing it gradually. In terms of whether we should have more than that— this again goes beyond my remit—I personally don’t think that it is a priority to start redesigning the whole sixth-form curriculum again. We have failed to do that so often that doing it again is probably not a good idea, but that is a very personal view. In terms of English, maths and other things that you should be continuing post-16, again at a personal level, I think it would be highly desirable. One of the really encouraging things is the belated but final uptake in people doing maths at least at AS. People are feeling that post-GCSE they want to continue with their maths and go on with it. I really hope that that continues. It would be nice if there were something like that in English. It is about the cost and complexity. My view, and obviously I looked at it in the context of vocational education, is that getting everyone up to a level is the top priority. Your point is that the sixth form as a whole should continue with a strong element of general education in the subjects that really matter later in life, and again talking purely as a private citizen, I agree with that.

Q18 Chair: Once you have written a Government report, Professor Wolf, you are never a private citizen again.

Professor Wolf: That may indeed be true. Let me say one final point, because it allows me to highlight something else. The rest of the world does it far more than we do. We are extraordinary in our degree of specialisation at all points in the spectrum.

Q19 Chair: You said you are not talking about immediately doing resits in the autumn. Could you clarify that because I think there is perhaps confusion out there as to exactly what sort of courses in English and maths you think are appropriate? Some people will just never be able to pass GCSE maths, but they are perfectly capable of getting numeracy skills up to a decent level, and clarity on that from you would be very helpful.

Professor Wolf: I would be happy to do that. I would also like to say that I think far, far more people are capable of passing GCSE maths than do. There is evidence of this from other countries and also from looking at different children at age 11 and which schools they went to. So I think our GCSE pass rate is dismally low, and I also think that the fact that we have not done anything for the last 15 years—in fact, we have introduced policies that got in the way of people improving this and doing it post 16—is a scandal. Can I stick to maths again because this is something that has been an issue in this country for a long time? There are, in fact, quite a number of qualifications that have not been favoured by the funding or league table system up until now, which basically teach you a substantial amount of maths in an applied fashion and which allow for progression. It is probably easiest if I talk about where you are likely to be when you are 16. Pretty much everybody does it. A lot of people come out with a D or an E. Quite a lot of people with a D can do a resit, and we know this from the past. In the days when people did do resits, lots of people did do it. If you talk to colleges at the moment quite a lot of them will have very specific resit programmes for a very small proportion of young people. They are typically on BTEC diploma courses. They want to apply to higher education, and the college will put on a specified resit programme. They quite often are very successful. So there is a group that can go into a resit. But it is absolutely right—if you’ve had five years of feeling more and more convinced that you can’t do this subject and you’ve come out with a D and you were lucky, or an E, then going straight into a GCSE resit, unless it’s a teacher of genius, is not a good idea. There are a number of qualifications, including freestanding maths qualifications, which I was involved in developing. They are applied but not in the sense that they ask the poor teacher to create their whole curriculum. This is the other thing. We demand a great deal of teachers. We expect them to invent a whole maths curriculum around their particular subject, as well as teaching the subject. So these are a combination of coursework and examination. They are applied in the sense that they take a cluster of maths, which has some clear business applications, some engineering applications or whatever. So they will take a part of the syllabus. There will be some real maths content, but it is a different approach. It often has quite a lot of IT. There is some coursework and some examination, but the idea is to take at level 2 a component of the GCSE maths and reinforce and teach it in a different way. Therefore if you’ve passed a couple of those you would, if you wanted to, be very well prepared to take a GCSE and be quite confident of passing it. In maths, it is quite straightforward. There are other qualifications that are old qualifications that were adult numeracy at higher levels or business maths. There is a lot out there, and it is just a question of allowing them to develop and grow and not be pushed on one side. English I have much less idea about, but I can’t help feeling that this is a country that has a huge amount of experience of teaching people English.

Q20 Tessa Munt: Can I quickly move to the technical and practical element of an EBac? We heard from David Bell that he thought the EBac, as currently designed, was too narrow. Others said the same. I just wondered what your thoughts were on that technical element to the EBac.

Professor Wolf: Do I think there should be a Technical Bac instead?

Q21 Tessa Munt: Yes.

Professor Wolf: No, I don’t. You can have a straight answer on that. I’ll tell you why I don’t. This is something I have come to a conclusion on since I wrote the report, so this is a new conclusion. I was actually very agnostic at the time that I wrote the report, and since then I have decided that it would be a bad idea. The reason for that is to do with one of the questions you asked me earlier about whether there is a risk that something becomes all that anybody aspires to—it becomes the top. There are two possible Tech Bacs that you can have. You can have one that is actually very demanding; I don’t quite know what it would be, but it would look something a little bit like the English Bac collection of qualifications, but just a little different. That would be fine, and many young people would chose to do that, because the EBac is not a qualification; it is a cluster of things. So some people will do that combination anyway, which is fine, and it may be that that is associated with doing a particular set of qualifications and going on to a particular track. That seems to me to be fine. However, to be blunt, the only real reason for having a Technical Bac, in reality and practice, would be as a consolation prize for the people who you think cannot do the English Baccalaureate. That’s actually why people would want it, and that’s what all the pressure to have it would be. If it is just as difficult to achieve as the English Baccalaureate then it is not clear to me what its broad function would be, because anybody can look at a collection of somebody’s GCSEs, and if they have a couple of very difficult and high quality vocational and technical ones then that’s fine. So the pressure for a Tech Bac will be for something that is easy. I think that would be catastrophic, because you would actually recreate selection at 14, and you’d have an English Bac stream and a Technical Bac stream. I think that would be utterly catastrophic. Whereas at the moment, when you have one set of qualifications, which have this label but are not the full curriculum—and are clearly not for everybody— and you can combine them with lots of other bits, you don’t create this thing that really worries me the most, which is to divide at 14. I know some people think that would be a good idea, but that’s where I really differ from people, and why I have changed my mind about the Tech Bac.

Q22 Tessa Munt: Would it be a bad thing to have a technical element to the EBac, so that those students who are academic would have an understanding?

Professor Wolf: This is where you go way beyond anything on which I have a formulated view. The answer is that I suggest you ask the Secretary of State.

Q23 Tessa Munt: I thought that you might have a bit of a view.

Professor Wolf: What I have had a view about, which is what is in here and is quite different, is the importance of making it clear that some vocational qualifications are worthy of respect. That is the thing that I care about much more than fiddling around at the edges of a group of qualifications that have been put together. As I said, I have no developed view about the exact composition of the EBac, but I have a very developed view about the importance of making it clear to the public that some vocational qualifications are good, sound, stretching, provide progression and should be put in league tables as such.

Q24 Tessa Munt: Thank you. Can I take you to one last thing? That is the idea that FE teachers might teach in schools. Is that practical, realistic, and in your view, how might it work?

Professor Wolf: I cannot think of any reason why it is not realistic. It seems to be something where again, because this is something that the Secretary of State has accepted, the Department is looking into the logistics of it. We’ve had this bizarre situation where if you were a qualified teacher with qualified teacher status from schools, you could teach in FE, but not vice versa. This is completely different from whether you’re going to hire a maths teacher to teach fashion, or an engineering teacher to teach French in schools. This is completely separate from people’s subject expertise; it is about qualified teacher status. Again, I have absolutely no views on the details of terms and conditions—that is not my remit, thank goodness—but I cannot think of a single reason why we can’t have that. We have mutual recognition of qualifications all over Europe—why can we not have mutual recognition of qualifications in schools and FE colleges? I didn’t get it when I started the report, and I can’t see any reason not to do it now.

Q25 Ian Mearns: There is a stated aim that all teachers in schools would have a minimum 2.1 degree, isn’t that the case?

Chair: 2.2.

Professor Wolf: 2.2. Again, you would have to ask the Secretary of State about this, because it is nothing to do with me. [Laughter.] That should not be read either way; it is literally nothing. I suppose this goes back to the issue of what people are teaching, and what people are being recruited to train for. Clearly, if you are teaching something in a school which is not a subject for which the normal professional training is degree-linked then presumably you have equivalences. I spend my whole life looking into equivalences, because if you recruit to an English university these days you have applicants from all over the world and you are constantly having to make these judgments more or less effectively. You make them. If there is a country that does not do bachelor degrees, you figure out what the rough equivalence is. Q26 Ian Mearns: Incidentally, since you are conducting this review of vocational education, did the Government consult you at all about the EBac before its introduction?

Professor Wolf: No.

Q27 Nic Dakin: Welcome, Professor Wolf. As somebody who did his training at King’s College some while ago, it is good to be able to welcome much that is in this report, particularly regarding the conversation we have been having about maths and English. Having led a college of 2,400 students for the past few years, people were always amazed to learn that the largest single subject entry was for GCSE maths, which was a retake course and was highly successful. So there is a lot of good practice out there.

Professor Wolf: I am delighted that you were doing it—that is wonderful.

Q28 Nic Dakin: Those students who could not do that did other numeracy qualifications, which I think is completely the right thing. However, I want to focus on something that I am less content with in the report, which is work experience and your suggestion that the blanket requirement for work experience should be withdrawn, based on what you say are fewer and fewer employers providing opportunity, whereas the information nationally suggests that more employers are coming forward. Some 404,000 employers provided one or two work placements last year and of those 60,000 were new into the system that year, so I am troubled by the evidence base and by the statements in your report.

Professor Wolf: This is the one I have been attacked on most, interestingly. It is the one that has caused the most dispute, among people talking to me at least. I am afraid that I have not changed my mind on it. Can I just say a couple of things? There is a cost-benefit issue here. It is about the amount of effort that goes into something for the return. I am certainly not saying that people should not do work experience. If you have a school or a locality—I was thinking of one head I know who is in a small Yorkshire town where he says it works very well—then that is wonderful. It is expensive, however, and you are doing it for short periods of time with a group of young people who are overwhelmingly going to be remaining in full-time education, and I do not think it is a sensible use of the money. On the evidence base, I obviously should have clarified my words. The answer is that we get employers in because we have specialist people working their backsides off to try and bring people in, and to do all the paperwork to get somebody who will take a child. What I know about is large companies in London and employers that I have talked to, and their increasing problems with their own HR departments and insurance departments. Also, in this context, it relates to all the things I was being told about the reluctance to take on apprentices at 16, and therefore the difficulty of doing this in anything except a very bureaucratic, expensive and laborious way, and it relates to the grave doubts that I had expressed about the degree to which what people got was in any sense a genuine experience of being in the workplace. You are right, of course, and I should have been much clearer that we have this whole network of people working full time doing all the paperwork and bringing in new employers—and you do have to keep bringing in new employers, because people don’t keep doing it willingly. The answer is that I am utterly unconvinced that the benefit justifies the cost of it. I would far rather—again, I have no idea if this will happen, because this is the recommendation on which there seems to have been the most push back so far— and I think it would make far more sense, to use those resources in a more targeted fashion to try to give people genuine experience of being in a workplace and to target it to those who are not going to get it. It is interesting. I say that I have had the most negative reactions. I have also had lots of other people who have said, “Yes, totally agree. Complete waste of space.”

Q29 Nic Dakin: But you accept that actually the statement in your report that there are fewer employers is probably out of line with the evidence.

Professor Wolf: The statement that there are—I mean, technically, in the sense that it is out of line with the fact that there are these groups of people out there who are managing to bring in new employers every year. So, no, I accept that.

Q30 Nic Dakin: When the Chancellor announced in the Budget a target of 80,000 additional work experience places, was he going in the wrong direction?

Professor Wolf: I do not know very much about this, and I hope somebody here might, but— Chair: We don’t either, by the way.

Professor Wolf: That’s okay because nobody I have spoken to seemed to know very much about it. I think and I hope that what he is talking about is something much more on the lines of what I talked about: actually funding proper internships in the workplace. The reason I hope that’s the case is that I know Lord Freud is very keen on those, so I have my fingers crossed that that’s where it has come from. Otherwise I do not know why he would have put more money in, because there is currently a statutory duty for everybody to have it.

Q31 Nic Dakin: How many pupils who have done work experience did you take evidence from in your research?

Professor Wolf: I did not take evidence on this occasion from people. This is a classic question; I could not have gone and done a vast, random, fullyrepresentative sample of young people who have done work experience for this report. If I had taken direct evidence and none of them wrote to me, that would have been an entirely unrepresentative sample. But speaking of unrepresentative samples, I did do a runround of all my children’s friends and asked them if they had ever had anything useful out of their work experience. The answer, I am afraid to say, was uniformly no, except when they had got a special thing through their parents, which I think we don’t approve of. Chair: Some people don’t approve of it, for the record.

Professor Wolf: For the record, that was an utterly unrepresentative sample, as it would have been if I had had a random five or six people who had given me evidence during the review.

Q32 Nic Dakin: The other thing about your report is that there seems to be a confusion between workrelated learning and work experience, which are two entirely different things. In your report you seem to mangle them together.

Professor Wolf: I hope I do not. There is ample evidence, which I hope I summarise in the report, that genuine experience of a job—which is not the same as a week of work-related experience in key stage 4— is enormously valuable in later life. It teaches you skills that nothing else can. But that is being in a job— being treated as an employee, having to be there. Nic Dakin: Certainly, that is the experience in the area I am from. Obviously, we draw from our own experiences, which are not necessarily complete across the piece. In my area, work experience means work experience for a week or two in a job. Interviewing students coming into the college from that, it was always something that they had benefited from because they learned the skills of getting there on time, even if the experience itself was not—

Professor Wolf: This is where I did get clear experience and it is why the Department changed the rules. The proportion of people who can get that genuine experience in the course of their statutory requirement period under key stage 4 is small. Of course, if you are actually doing a job for a week or two, or even better, a real job for six months—and this is not the normal experience and it is why the Department had to change the rules—you will learn things that you don’t learn any other way. But that is not what we are getting, for the most part, under the key stage 4 statutory requirement at the moment. There is no evidence I have seen to the contrary. They changed the requirement because schools were not able to do that for many of their young people. If in your area—as I said, I can point you to one particular town in Yorkshire where it is working fantastically— you can achieve that on a wide scale, that is fantastic. Hopefully, those schools will not stop doing it. Even if the Secretary of State accepted every word of my report, I have not said, “You shall not do it.”

Q33 Nic Dakin: You are right to point to the cost and the balance of cost and benefit. At times of cost, things can disappear altogether. It is very helpful; you appear to be saying that a one-week or two-week work experience in the work place is something that should be valued and should be sought—

Professor Wolf: If you can do it, it is wonderful. The problem is that, when you have blanket requirements, you then end up being forced to accept substitutes that are not worth the candle. That is what has happened. This is obviously something that people feel quite strongly about, so I have no idea what will happen, but I haven’t changed my mind.

Q34 Nic Dakin: What about careers education guidance? What are your views on that? The report is largely silent about that, for understandable reasons; it wasn’t your strong focus.

Professor Wolf: It was not my strong point.

Q35 Nic Dakin: How important do you see that to go alongside the curriculum changes here?

Professor Wolf: There are two reasons why I didn’t say much. First, because I am not an expert; secondly, because vast amounts are being written about it and people are making contributions on this a lot. Making truthful information available to people is absolutely critical. If I am going to start being critical now of schools and colleges, I came across too many examples—although this is not blanket—where they were not levelling with the kids. It was really distressing. Making objective information available to young people and their families about careers, about what is really required to get into something, about what is really valued and about what opportunities there are is absolutely critical. We are at a stage in human history where it can get better. The problem with careers guidance has always been that you are expecting one poor teacher to know about the whole world. That has always been impossible; how can they? This is something where there is a real role for Government in providing proper, online, updated information on what is available and on the performance of different institutions that young people might choose among. That would not be so much detailed rate-of-return stuff, because you have to wait 20 years for that, but information about what you need to get here and what you need to get there. All that can be made available centrally because of the arrival of universal access to online information. Again, talking from personal experience, if I look at how people operate when they are applying as undergraduates to university, and when I talk to people I know who are running big, successful colleges, the extent to which people already do enormous amounts of online research for themselves and for their children seems to me to have changed the whole scene. We can do things that we used not to do. Careers advice and guidance is obviously incredibly important. The most important thing that Government can do—because it is a classic thing where there really are centralised economies of scale—is to get information out there that is accessible both to the teacher, who may be using it to give advice, and directly to young people and their families. That is critical, and we can do that now in a way that was never possible in the past. That has to be good.

Q36 Nic Dakin: Do you see the prime purpose of education as to prepare people for work?

Professor Wolf: I don’t think it’s the only one; in fact I have written quite a lot saying that it’s not the only one, and that one of the ways we have gone wrong is in trying to fine-tune education to the supposed needs of the economy. The reality is, of course, that education makes a difference to your life. It is used as a gatekeeper for people going into jobs. If we don’t get that right we are doing an enormous disservice to people. We are providing national institutions to which all our future citizens go, and in which they deserve to be given a preparation for the workplace.

Q37 Neil Carmichael: Just picking up on that point about the national economy, there is ample evidence to suggest that we need more young people to go into engineering and manufacturing, for example. Bearing in mind your comments about some of the quality of courses that have been seen, certainly in the FE sector, over the past few years, do you think your vision is going to enable a work force to be developed for those big opportunities?

Professor Wolf: I hope so. One reason why I keep banging on about maths and science comes back to manufacturing. It is not that our current engineering companies and manufacturing companies have huge numbers of vacant positions; that is actually not the case. If you measure these two things up, we are already producing “too many” engineering graduates. I don’t think we are, because I think it’s a fantastic training, and one of the problems is that so does the City. It’s not about going back to manpower planning, but it is about—I feel strongly about this—changing the current situation in which a very large proportion of young people make choices at 14 or 15 that mean that they can never do science and technical subjects later, because they have gone off in another direction. So it’s not about deciding that you want this many people to do a manufacturing qualification at age 15; it’s about ensuring that you have a lot of people who can do those sorts of subjects and, therefore, that you can build up on it. Again, I suppose the thing is that I don’t think that you can create miracles. You could write the most dramatic and wonderful and amazing curricula for everybody, but it doesn’t mean that you can teach them or that people will choose them. It’s actually about deciding what is feasible. I have enormous sympathy, therefore, with all the people who sort of jump up and down about strengthening STEM subjects, but it isn’t about saying that we need this many of this and this many of that. We have tried to do that with qualifications and, indeed, with places in colleges, and it has always been a catastrophic failure. The other thing that we know is that young people change jobs very often. They change jobs, and they change occupations. We knew that before, and one of the things that we were able to do for the review was to do some more analysis of this, and that confirmed it. Typically, between 18 and 30, people change very frequently, not only the specific job but also the sector they work in. There are lots of different bits to this, but I hope that there are two or three things that will actually help. I go on and on about maths. It is about not letting people make dead-end choices at 14, because they are being steered into them for the wrong reasons. It’s about broadening the base.

Q38 Chair: What does a dead-end choice at 14 look like?

Professor Wolf: It looks like something that when you turn up to your local college and say, “I’ve got 20 GCSEs,” they say, “I don’t think that most of those count.”

Q39 Chair: Such as?

Professor Wolf: I’m not going to get into individual qualifications, because we know that there is a whole group for which that is the case. I was also told this by a number of people in evidence. I actually asked them the same thing, and when I said, “Will you give me examples?” they said, “No. Don’t quote me.”

Q40 Chair: So, we’ve got qualifications that are, in fact, dead end and directly harmful to the future prospects of young people, and neither you or the people that you spoke to are prepared to tell us what they are? That’s pretty unsatisfactory.

Professor Wolf: No. What I have said is that if the Department accepts my recommendations, it will draw up some clear criteria for what are good qualifications with clear progress. If you have those, just as with the approval criteria for an A-level or for a new degree, you can actually look at the qualifications and say, “Do they meet those criteria?” What we know is that, in the broad, there are many qualifications that don’t seem to have any labour market value, and, in the broad, I am being told by colleges that kids are coming through and they are not prepared.

Q41 Chair: How can we know that if no one can tell us a single one where that is the case?

Professor Wolf: What I know is that there is a large number of people who acquire qualifications between the ages of 20 and 40, or, indeed, between the ages of 15 and 30, which are classified on a grid, so I don’t know the qualification’s individual names, where they are getting no labour market gain from that fact. I don’t know the name of the individual qualification, but I know the type of qualification. That is what you get on a large database. Even if I knew the individual qualification’s name, it wouldn’t even mean anything, because it has probably been reformed 15 times already. The principles of design are clearly wrong. It is not that there is one bad qualification out there and if you pulled it out, it would all go away. What is clearly going wrong is that we are putting too many qualifications out there that aren’t meeting the basic criteria of actually teaching you something.

Q42 Chair: This is Ofqual’s job, isn’t it? How much interaction did you have with Ofqual when writing your report?

Professor Wolf: I had quite a lot of interaction with Ofqual, and that was what convinced me that the criteria that they were using at the moment to do individual qualification approval were not actually tackling the issue. That is why my view is that you should, first of all, leave far more to the awarding bodies and the colleges and schools, because they are closer to the labour market. Secondly, for league-table purposes, you should have some broad criteria, which you can actually take and look at and say, “On the face of it, these qualifications clearly meet these broad criteria. If you take these, as far as we can tell, you are going to learn something that is worth learning. It is going to be additional to what you are doing elsewhere in the curriculum. It is going to have skills inherent in it that are related to things that you are going to want to learn in the sixth form in level 3-type apprenticeships or in higher and technical education.” Therefore, we are going to give those a tick, which is all you could ever do. Even if you had one person collecting data for every five members of the public and they collected every piece of information on every qualification that anybody ever did, you probably still wouldn’t know, even down at that level, whether each individual qualification was worth this much or that much. All you can do is say, “We’ve clearly got the principles wrong at the moment, because in the broad there is a large class of qualifications that aren’t adding anything.”

Q43 Chair: But equivalencies are set by Government, and Ofqual has a general overriding duty. Is it that Ofqual has been given the wrong brief, or is it not doing its job?

Professor Wolf: Equivalencies are extraordinary. Before I started the report, I hadn’t taken them in. Does everybody here know about equivalencies, or should I explain them? Basically, there was a completely extraordinary move in which every qualification became formally equivalent on a particular scale. Each qualification was worth so many beans, and they were all the same sort of beans. This one was worth five kidney beans, and therefore that one must be worth four or six kidney beans, even though they might cover completely different things. In my view, that was the root of an awful lot of what went wrong in schools over the past few years. Schools had a strong incentive to find something that would be easy to deliver, perhaps because it overlapped almost completely with something that they were already doing, so that they could get two for the price of one, because it would count as formally equivalent to a GCSE or whatever. As far as I can make out—people here may know more about this than I do—that programme was put through overwhelmingly by agencies, rather than coming directly from ministerial level. The idea was that everything would finally be worth the same as everything else, which would get rid of a hierarchy of prestige. Well, you don’t get rid of a hierarchy of prestige that way, but you do set up some very perverse incentives. That is something on which first QCA, and then Ofqual, have been spending a great deal of their time. In my view, only Lewis Carroll could do it justice.

Q44 Bill Esterson: I would like to ask you about funding arrangements, particularly payment by results and money following students. You have talked about those two issues. Your report talks about giving institutions strong incentives to choose qualifications that pay well. Doesn’t a payment-by-results system at least ensure that young people pass some qualifications? Wouldn’t removing it mean that more people would be without any qualifications, which would make more people less employable?

Professor Wolf: If a qualification isn’t respected in the labour market, having it doesn’t make you more employable anyway. Hence the fact that in these large surveys we find that many people have acquired additional qualifications without any gain whatsoever that one can tell. In quite a lot of the studies, on the face of it, they seem to be earning less than if they hadn’t done them, although I think that must be because there is something else that we don’t know. I am not suggesting that the Government should take away all accountability measures. There is a big difference between paying by results on a qualification by qualification basis and having a system in which there are no accountability measures at all. It doesn’t seem very likely that the current Government are going to get rid of all of the accountability measures, so it is probably irrelevant whether I say it or not.

Q45 Bill Esterson: What do you think is the appropriate level of accountability measures?

Professor Wolf: I think you have to do it on a number of different counts. You have to have a combination of formal measures, so that you have information on how many people are passing. I personally don’t think that post-16 you can have the measures you have at 16. You can cluster stuff at GCSE, because in Key Stage 4 the vast majority of people are doing the same sorts of qualifications, but at post-16 it doesn’t make any sense to add things together. You just have to provide information that says, “At this college, this many people took these qualifications, and their pass rate was this. So many of them went on to apprenticeships, and so many of them went on to higher educations.” You have to provide broad information at that point, but you have to make that information readily available to people, much more readily than it has been in the past when people often couldn’t find it very easily. One reason why I believe in competition is that it is actually a very powerful push. When you are running a school or college, just as when you are running a university, having a competitor down the road keeps you on your toes, and I believe that very strongly. Therefore, in post-16, I think that works pretty well, because people are old enough and mature enough. They travel large distances, and they make decisions about which college is good quality and which one gives them what so, to the degree that as an institution you depend on recruiting, that is a powerful thing. I believe in having employers far more involved at college level, in the whole business of doing the examining, than they have been in the past. That would pick up on many European countries’ systems, because that is incredibly powerful as a force for quality assurance. I also believe in Ofsted and I know the Committee does too, thinking that Ofsted in its current form is spread too thinly, and could be usefully broken up and focused. I actually believe that post-16 inspection has a very important role to play. So there are four things, and I think that you need a balance between the four. If you try to rely too heavily on one, you end up distorting the whole system. Does that answer the question? I’m not sure it does, but I tried.

Q46 Bill Esterson: I think that the answer to my question is that it is a very difficult question to answer.

Professor Wolf: Well, it is a very difficult question, which is why I’ve carefully evaded answering it.

Q47 Bill Esterson: Moving on to money following the student, the concern is that per pupil funding could lead to a problem with more expensive courses. There is a very big difference in the cost of different courses. We need the skills, particularly in engineering and science, but in many other subjects, too, and per pupil funding could lead to a reduction in the number of courses available.

Professor Wolf: I should have made it much clearer than I obviously did that when I said per pupil funding, I didn’t actually mean that it was a flat rate for whatever course. If you have the report—you probably haven’t got the whole thing—on page 58, I give an example of the wonderful simplicity of the Danish system, which you can see I fell in love with, although that doesn’t mean you can import it wholesale. You will see that I gave the example of the Danish system compared with the bizarre complexities that we have. They have a banded system, so if you are in a hairdressing course, you get less than if you are on an electrician’s course. There is a clear content weighting but they only run with a limited number of bands, which is true for most systems. If you think about higher education funding, we run with a limited number of bands. The last time I asked about the Scottish system was four or five years ago, so they have probably reformed it five times since, but they were running with a limited number of bands as well. I absolutely don’t think that you can do without that. You must have a weighting for that, which, unfortunately, brings you immediately back to some degree to the question of central planning and how many at each band you are willing to fund. Fortunately, I wasn’t asked to give that degree of detailed advice, but you must have banding.

Q48 Bill Esterson: That is helpful. Another issue that leads on from that is that if money is taken away from colleges and goes to private companies taking on apprentices, is there potential for that happening for the wrong reasons, just to get the cash?

Professor Wolf: The argument that I put forward is that if we want apprentices and we want apprenticeships to be a general education and not just very narrow, we have to accept that we’re asking people to do something that is over and above running their company and they deserve reimbursement. Fortunately again, I was not asked to do detailed costings on that. My personal feeling is that there are probably economies that can be found within the current apprenticeship system, which would free up some of this money anyway, because everybody I talked to and all the evidence that I got implied that there were heavy bureaucratic costs. However, if you think of it in terms of an entitlement per young person, somebody who is on an apprenticeship is, by definition, not in a college anyway. It is not so much that you are taking money away from apprentices in colleges and giving it to companies, it is more that if you want to grow the number of people who are in apprenticeships then this seems to me to be the way you do it. Since we are now in a country where we are trying to increase the number of people in apprenticeships and where we have raised the school leaving age—I know it’s not that but everybody calls it that—the money has to be there for each young person who wants some form of training. Therefore, hopefully, that would cover it.

Q49 Bill Esterson: The other thought about this is that if employers are given the option, would they rather take on apprentices or wait for top- quality graduates?

Professor Wolf: Apprenticeships cover such a wide range. If you think of something like Rolls-Royce, JCB or BT, nobody needs to be sold on those. Kids are queuing round the block. If you get a Rolls-Royce apprenticeship it is better than getting into Oxford, so nobody needs to be convinced about that. The problem, and again this is a problem that is not a purely English problem, is the kids who want to get apprenticeships who are not able to get them include many who are not trying to get Rolls-Royce apprenticeships and are certainly not planning to read physics at Imperial if they fail. Employers would rather make it riskless. They would like somebody else to have been the one who gave them the first job so that they know they are not taking huge risks and that they have somebody good. That has been the real killer and that is why we are having such trouble finding places for 16 and 17-year-olds. In a sense it is slightly suck it and see. If you say to employers, “If you take a 16 or a 17-year-old you will get some money because we recognise that we are asking you to do something which is about education and which is going to be more difficult than if you take a 23-year-old” then, hopefully, this will help. All the evidence that we have both from a couple of local authorities that have done this on a small scale locally, usually with special funds, and from the experience of other European countries that have also introduced direct payments to employers, is that it doesn’t mean that you’ve suddenly got more places than you know what to do with, but it significantly increases the number of places that you can get.

Q50 Neil Carmichael: Can I ask about regulation and performance measurement? In your report, you draw attention to the fact that in Europe, there is a tendency for qualifications to be state arranged, in contrast to our system. What kind of system would you design from scratch in terms of Ofqual versus Government involvement?

Professor Wolf: It is absolutely true that we have a unique system. There is this feeling of “Would we start from here?” Probably we wouldn’t start from here but here is where we are. Again—this is not just me getting old but I have seen repeated attempts to reform—25 years ago, I might have thought that we needed to do root-and-branch reform and change everything and recreate grouped awards that we got rid of in 1952 and all the rest of it. I don’t believe that any more. You work with what you’ve got. This again is true of other countries. Changing the qualification system of a country turns out to be incredibly difficult. It is not just us who finds it difficult; ask the Poles about trying to reform their system and they’d keep you here till midnight. We have to work with what we’ve got. Particularly in the vocational area, we have a rather good system, leaving aside the academic question. Potentially it is good to have a system that grew out of the industries. The problem has been that we have created a system which basically no longer did that. In the past, if you wanted to develop qualifications you basically had to convince the industry and then to some degree the colleges and then the qualification either flew or it did not. There are still plenty of qualifications that are not regulated in that way and are doing just fine. The problem is that we created a different system in which basically your customer was not the industry any more, your customer was the Government. Your prime customer was the regulator. The regulator decided whether you were an awarding body, and encouraged you to become a new one—or didn’t— and told you whether your product was there. If the product was “good”, that was fine and you had something of a guaranteed market. That is what we have to get away from. The awarding bodies are talking to the regulator, rather than talking to and responding to the labour market, employers or colleges. That is why I made that slightly nerdy but fundamental recommendation, which I hope the Government were listening to. The role of a regulator in this area should not be to design individual products; it should have a much broader role to ensure that awarding bodies follow the right procedures and have robust quality processes. I am sorry to keep coming back to the area I know, but again that is much closer to the way in which universities are regulated and the way in which they award degrees. I believe that very profoundly, because what was being asked of the regulator, and what the regulator thought it was being asked to do, was undoable. When something is undoable, preferably you just stop doing it.

Q51 Neil Carmichael: I note that in your answer you’ve nudged more in the direction of recognising the labour market, as opposed to your earlier answers when I was talking about engineering and manufacturing.

Professor Wolf: Well, I think the qualifications that people put on do tend to recognise the labour market. It is a question of how many people do it, and your question is about whether enough people will do it. In that sense, perhaps I slightly misunderstood your first question. If the reforms that I suggest are implemented, they will bring qualifications much closer to the labour market—I really believe that. They used to be closer, and I think they are closer in the areas that are less regulated, which in itself is likely to have a good effect. It won’t be utopia; things are always messy, but I think it would make the link between qualifications and therefore the content, and what the labour market actually wants and rewards, much closer than it has been over the past 20 years.

Q52 Neil Carmichael: Thank you. We’ve got Ofqual. This Committee has already looked at Ofsted, and we have been saying that it should become more specialised and get on with the job of focusing on what is really important. Do you think the same logic should be applied to Ofqual?

Professor Wolf: I don’t think it is feasible—again, I am talking about vocational qualifications, because there is a completely different issue about whether the Government would want academic GCSEs and/or academic A-levels to be regulated in a completely different way. Anything that is related to the national curriculum raises a whole set of different issues. I don’t see how the same logic can be applied. The whole point about the labour market is that it is enormously diverse. Occupations range from being very large, like some of the catering occupations, to ones that are tiny and highly specialised, and which have had particular awful problems under the regime—again, I mean literally the past 20 years. It is unrealistic. Suppose there is an awarding body that is working with employers in a specialist trade. Let me think of something that is not too enormous but not too small either—stonemasons. I will not go into diamond cutters, as that really is a whole story of disasters involving qualifications. Suppose an awarding body works closely with stonemasons and with the colleges, and develops qualifications that are likely to be very closely linked to a number of companies, small and large, that work on restoration and in antique buildings, and will probably be quite international. Perhaps the qualification does not go to Ofqual. Under my scenario, the detailed qualification would not be Ofqual’s concern, unless there were complaints about it, and the awarding body that was doing it would be more scrutinised than it is at present. Suppose that is twisted around and we say that perhaps the answer is to give Ofqual a huge breadth. That means that somewhere up in Coventry you’ve got to have an expert stonemason, somebody who is absolutely expert about this one particular craft, sitting there in Ofqual. First of all, even if you had a stonemason sitting full time in Ofqual next to all the other subject specialists, if the stonemasons the awarding body is talking to and using for its assessment are happy, and the person in Ofqual isn’t happy, why should you believe the Ofqual person any more than the others? It becomes, you know, the flea on the flea on the flea. So I think the answer is, why would you? For the vocational market it just seems to me that it cannot be done. You’ve just got too many people and there’s no reason why you should trust them, but I think academic subjects may be different.

Q53 Neil Carmichael: In your report, you recommend that we focus more on academic outcomes, as opposed to “accrual of qualifications”, which is the phrase that you use. In a sense, that will pose a little bit of a problem for some organisations— Graham has bumped into this issue already—in terms of league tables and performance indicators. How do you feel about that? Do you think that the answer really lies in focusing those minds on the academic side?

Professor Wolf: One thing I have advocated, which will be absolutely new if it is done, is that a subset of vocational qualifications should be formally recognised as truly excellent. I have said that you cannot treat everything as equivalent to everything, but that there should be a set of vocational qualifications that are very clearly recognised as excellent; worth doing; providing people who take them with useful, new and additional skills; and having clear potential for progression, so in that sense, that is saying something quite new. In terms of status it is saying very clearly that these deserve the same status in league table calculations as anything else. I may also be saying that you shouldn’t be spending all week on them, but that is very different; you shouldn’t be spending all week on modern languages either, so I think that’s the difference. The other thing, which goes back to pre and post-16, is that there is a real divide. I suppose I see the world very much the way that most other European countries do, possibly: that pre-16 and post-16 seem to be very different. I do believe that pre-16 people should retain this academic core, that they should not abandon that. Post-16—again, this is entirely personal, and it’s not something I think I said anything much about, specifically, in the report—I don’t think you should be aggregating stuff. I think that I said this before: post-16, what you should be providing information on is much more individual subject-based, and that doesn’t imply any particular distinction between one group of things here and one group of things there. That is where it gets much more complicated, because if you do very well in an engineering qualification post-16, if it’s a good engineering qualification, it doesn’t seem that there is any reason why anybody—certainly not an employer or a higher education person—would treat that as less valuable than having done very well in, I don’t know, ancient Greek.

Q54 Craig Whittaker: In Calderdale, where my constituency is, I think that a real change of ethos is needed between educators and employers. To give you a couple of examples: we are the third most vulnerable area in the country in regard to FSA, however, only six months ago did we get the college and this large company together. Engineers are still on the old Programme Led Apprentice system, as are the trainers. The local high school technology centre opened only at the end of last year, £2.2 million, yet there is no involvement whatsoever from employers. What impact do you feel that Government proposals to reduce bureaucracy and central prescription will have for vocational education, particularly regarding the role of the employer?

Professor Wolf: I have no idea about the Government’s proposals, so I will just say some of the things that I hope they will listen to in terms of employers. One thing that is probably obvious if you read this is that you have to think all the time in terms of the incentives that you’re offering people, and one of the problems has been that the incentives for schools and colleges have been not to involve employers, but to keep the quangos happy, and to stack up the league table points. I think—if I were a dictator for a day and able to push through some of the things that I’ve recommended— you must offer employers something in return for getting them involved, and the two things that you can offer them are, bluntly, a bit of money and, equally importantly, the chance to get to know people they might want to hire. I know they’ll do some things out of good will, but in hard and straitened times, your first duty is to your employees. Your employees are who you have to look after. The great plus of involvement with a local school and local college is that it may make you decide you do want to do an apprenticeship formally, but even if it doesn’t, it means that you have a chance to look at the people you might want to be hiring in the next year. I think that’s incredibly important. Again, talking as someone who works in education, that’s why employers get involved in my department. The truth is they want to look at future employees. If you have a set of requirements via Ofsted, and reformed Ofqual requirements for how awarding bodies operate, and it is accepted that employers have to be in there, and if you’re awarding a vocational certificate, there has to be an employer involved- if that means that you’re paying him to come in in the evening, so be it.

Q55 Craig Whittaker: You mentioned Ofqual again. How do you reconcile the need for decentralisation with the extra powers your report might give to the Secretary of State through reforms to Ofqual?

Professor Wolf: It’s funny that when you do these things—I’m sorry to give an answer with an anecdote—there are things you knew beforehand you were going to say, and things you don’t. One thing that I became aware of when looking at this is that decentralisation is all very well, but if you have a combination of decentralisation with lack of clarity on control and decision making, you don’t get innovation and efficiency; you get endless delays and lack of clarity. My conclusion was that that was what we were getting. It seemed like you were getting endless back and forth between the Department and the quangos generally about who decided. You were definitely getting agencies making policy, sometimes without even telling Ministers, as far as I could see. In a way this is something of a change. Decentralisation to the point of delivery far more is really important. I’ve definitely cooled on decentralisation to intermediate bodies. That’s a partial answer.

Q56 Craig Whittaker: Do you think the potential cost associated with another system upheaval—that’s what is being supposed—justifies the difference made to young people and indeed the number of them who have particular needs?

Professor Wolf: That’s always difficult, because one won’t know the answer unless they do the things I’ve suggested, and we see where we are five or six years from now. That was a question I asked myself, and one thing that struck me about the evidence I got was the unanimity with which people said that the system is just not functioning, and it’s not a question of just tweaking. I totally agree with you that upheavals always have major costs, but what we have created over the past 20 years is untenable. I wanted to have a Heath Robinson cartoon on the front of the cover, but it would have taken about six months to get permission. That’s what we’ve got, and it’s hopeless.

Q57 Craig Whittaker: You said the system is not functioning, and needs more than just tweaking. Do you therefore perceive any difficulties in the current split of responsibilities between BIS and Education?

Professor Wolf: I did operate with both. I had someone from both Departments on my secretariat, but it was primarily with DFE. If you have two Departments, it is always more problematic than having one in terms of decision making, for obvious reasons. On most of this, it wasn’t an acute problem, in that there’s a Minister who sits across both, apprenticeships go across both, and BIS was very helpful. But of course if you have two organisations operating in the same area, that imposes costs. The rationale has to be that the benefits are greater. The other thing that I came to conclude—again, I have no idea whether the Government will agree—is that just as I think 16 is a barrier, I think 18 is clearly a very different point. This is not necessarily a BIS-DFE thing, but I do think that in terms of clarity, administration and everything, clearer recognition that under-18 and adult are very different worlds would make policy making and implementation simpler.

Chair: Professor Wolf, thank you very much for giving evidence to us today.

Professor Wolf: Thank you very much for giving me the opportunity.


 
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