Training heads say downgrading of qualifications may undermine raft of new technical colleges

Construction leaders have warned the government’s “downgrading” of vocational education may undermine a raft of new technical colleges.

Balfour Beatty and Wates, two of nine construction firms sponsoring five new University Technical Colleges (UTCs) to open by 2014, have criticised the government’s move to downgrade the value of hundreds of vocational qualifications in school league tables. This included several engineering and construction qualifications.

UTCs for 14- to 19-year-olds are sponsored and run by the private sector in areas such as construction and manufacturing. In January, as part of a wider government move to downgrade vocational qualifications, engineering diplomas - offered by the country’s first UTC, run by plant giant JCB - were downgraded from being worth five GCSEs to just one.

The commercial sponsors of UTCs, which also include the Shard, Mace, Lend Lease, Taylor Wimpey and Enterprise, are currently securing funding for construction of the colleges and drawing up the curriculums.

But training heads at Balfour Beatty and Wates told Building the government needed to better promote vocational education or risk undermining UTCs.

Chris Simpson, Wates education liaison officer, said: “[The downgrading] does send the wrong signal. The government doesn’t understand what’s going on in the real world.”

Nick Gooderson, head of training at skills body CITB-ConstructionSkills, said the government’s lack of support for vocational training threatened to undermine the viability of the entire UTCs programme.

He said: “The downgrading of vocational qualifications is going to make it very difficult to set up and promote these schools.”

Iain Wright, Labour’s shadow construction minister, said the move sent out “the wrong message to pupils, parents and business who have ploughed resources and energy into setting up UTCs”.

A spokesperson for the Department for Education said: “We are including the highest quality qualifications in performance tables so that we can raise standards across the board.”

UTCs sponsored by construction firms due to open by 2014:

Southwark, London - Shard, Balfour Beatty, Mace, Lend Lease, Shangri-La Hotel Group
Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire - Taylor Wimpey
Houghton Regis, Central Bedfordshire - Wates
Burnley, Lancashire - Enterprise, Barnfield Construction
Daventry, Northamptonshire - SDC Construction