NOCN Group Written evidence (EDU0018)


How can we equip young people with the skills they need to thrive in our future economy?

Response to Call for Evidence

  1. “The future success and prosperity of the UK in a post-Brexit world will increasingly depend on our ability to harness home-grown talent and to encourage the creativity and innovation of our young people” (Michael Wilshaw, HM Chief Inspector [i]).  The 11- 16 learning programme is the foundation for employment skills, and so its alignment to the current and future job market is important.
  2. The current National Curriculum guides a programme of compulsory learning, narrowing pupils learning as they progress through Key Stages 1 – 4. By Key Stage 4 ‘most’ children study for GCSEs, of which English, Maths and Combined or Triple Science are compulsory, and the English Baccalaureate (EBacc) is encouraged (English language and literature, maths, Combined or Triple Science, history or geography and a language). Schools must offer only one of art, design and technology, humanities or modern foreign languages.
  3. This narrow academic curriculum is designed to build a core knowledge base in these subjects, based on the ‘cultural literacy’ concept developed by E.D. Hirsch, according to Nick Gibb (How ED Hirsch Came to Shape UK Government Policy: Nick Gibb [ii] ) . Hirsch’s theory was developed to build a basis for the academic prowess of university students of literature. Whilst undeniably building important core skills, it was not designed to fill the employment gaps of the modern marketplace, where arguably tomorrow’s knowledge is more about how to find the information online, rather than retaining the information itself.
  4. The review of vocational education for 14-16 year olds in 2011 aimed to improve the successful progression into the labour market (Wolf Review 2011 [iii]).  Application of the recommended policies in 2014/5 reduced the vocational qualifications on offer, resulting in a significant drop in vocational qualification achievements at Level 2 (equivalent to GCSE), down 11% 2014/15 – 2020/21 ( DfE 2022 [iv])
  5. The Pre-16 school curriculum now offered in schools is very focused on academic performance, with little alternative provision for technical or vocational qualifications at Level 2/GCSE.
  6. Level 2 is a critical stepping stone in the employment ladder but, as outlined in the AELP report ‘Access to the Future [v]’,  nearly three in ten young people fail to achieve a Level 2 qualification by the age of 16 (DfE 2022), and one in five leave education at 18 years without achieving Level 2 (Children’s Commissioner 2020).
  7. Although schools and colleges do offer a narrow range of Technical Awards to 14-16 year olds, often confined to those easy to deliver (such as Sport, Fashion and Textiles, Food Technology,  Design and Technology and Business), only 415,000 Technical Awards were certified in 2020/21, a small proportion of the 5.3M GCSEs awarded.
  8. The main route for pupils aged 14 - 16 to study Technical Awards at Level 2 is to move to a University Technical College (UTC), a big commitment without a sound understanding of the alternative subjects on offer. Introduced in 2010 to provide the technical education route for 14–19-year-olds, UTCs have struggled to attract students and three-quarters are less than 60% full - with funding following the pupil, there is no incentive for schools to advertise this as an option.  The 47 UTCS have c.19,000 students on roll in total, around 1% of the 1.9M students aged 14-19 (21/22).  The Baker Dearing Trust charges a licence fee of £10Kpa to each college for the use of the UTC brand, on top of c.£900K funding from the DfE (House of Commons Briefing Paper 2020 [vi]). 
  9. The Baker Dearing Trust have recently proposed an introduction of UTC ‘Sleeves’ for secondary schools to provide a technical education curriculum for 14–18-year-olds as part of an integrated pathway. This would bring the benefits of employer and university sponsors embedded in the UTC proposal whilst allowing students to remain in their local setting.  However each UTC Sleeve would require up to £1m capital funding for specialist equipment, plus £100K start-up grant from the DfE (Baker Dearing Educational Trust 2023 [vii]). In addition, the school would be subject to the Baker Dearing Licence fee.
  10. It is clear that the current system is not giving enough of our young people the skills to work, or progress with education.  An estimated 11.5% of all 16-24 year old people are not in education, employment or training (NEET) (ONS October – December 2022 [viii]), a level that has persisted between 11% and 16% over the past 10 years.
  11. In addition the current system is not filling the job vacancies we have in the workforce. The Covid-19 pandemic highlighted the vital part that key workers play in keeping our country running, in energy, construction, consumable goods and food production, transport and sales, and health and social care. Many of these roles are Level 2 jobs, yet there are considerable vacancies in all of these fields, many due to lack of relevant training at Level 2.
  12. Skills Gaps are particularly obvious in the construction workforce. Our recent report in conjunction with CCATF ‘Building the Construction Operational Workforce [ix]’ outlined the construction workforce crisis. Of the two million plus construction workers in the UK, six in ten are trained for manual labour at Level 2.  There is an annual demand of thirty thousand new workers at this level, but the current system provides only five thousand apprenticeship achievements at Level 2 per annum.  Regulated Qualification Framework qualifications at Level 2, currently taught by Further Education colleges at 16 plus, make up some of the shortfall, but funding is soon to be removed from many of these.  Now recruitment levels are so poor that Migration Advisory Committee has proposed adding 15 construction occupations to the Shortage Occupation List for immigration.
  13. Similarly the current system is not building the workforce to deliver NetZero. Key skills at Level 2 are required to underpin the green power (solar, wind, heat pumps and hydrogen), infrastructure and the energy-efficient buildings needed make this vison successful and sustainable.  Urgent action is needed here, and the scale of the challenge needs an ‘all hands on deck’ approach (‘Greening the UK’s Skills’: NOCN Group 2023 [x]).
  14. In addition, by applying such a narrow school curriculum, we are preventing the children who are talented with their hands from being successful at a young age.  They are not being given the opportunity to learn the highly desirable Level 2 employment skills from the age of 14 onwards which would ease their transition into good jobs.
  15. Of even more concern is the consideration of wider skills required for the future workforce.  There are currently no or very little curricula for 14 – 16 year olds to cover problem solving, digital design, team working or creativity. Yet the World Economic Forum’s Top 10 list of skills required by employers highlights all of these. (World Economic Forum: The Future of Jobs report 2020 [xi])
  16. A rethink of 14-19 education is required to offer pupils more technical and vocational qualifications within current educational settings, as part of flexible career pathways alongside academic core qualifications, as outlined in our report ‘Close the Gap [xii]’, prepared jointly with City & Guilds.

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  1. This flexible approach would allow pupils to learn key Level 2 skills from the age of fourteen, alongside other academic and core functional skills, allowing a more effective transition to the workforce. It should not require a UTC brand and licence to operate. Pupils should be encouraged to take both academic and technical qualifications, to develop both their practical and thinking skills for future employment.


26 April 2023



[i] Schools should be doing more to prepare young people for the world of work - GOV.UK (

[ii] knowledge-and-the-curriculum.pdf ( P12

[iii] Review of vocational education: the Wolf report - GOV.UK (

[iv] Level 2 and 3 attainment age 16 to 25, Academic year 2020/21 – Explore education statistics – GOV.UK (

[v] access-to-the-future-final.pdf (

[vi]  University technical colleges - Committee of Public Accounts - House of Commons (

[vii] UTC sleeve proposal (

[viii] Young people not in education, employment or training (NEET), UK - Office for National Statistics (

[ix] Building the construction operational workforce of 2030 - NOCN

[x] Greening the Uk's Skills - NOCN

[xi] What are the top 10 job skills for the future? | World Economic Forum (

[xii] Close the Gap - NOCN