A former education secretary today hails London for having the “most phenomenal opportunity” to lead a skills revolution across the country.
Veteran politician Lord Blunkett, who also served as home secretary, was among speakers at a forum organised by the Evening Standard and campaign group WorldSkills UK to try to identify the skills needed to power the economy and to ensure young people are offered the opportunity to learn them.
He said the capital could build on the success of the London Challenge which focused on raising standards in its secondary schools, adding: “London has got the most phenomenal opportunity because the London Challenge worked.
“You’ve got an ethnic diversity which is a driver of aspiration, and has been proved to be so, and you’ve got 46 per cent of parents paying at some point for a tutor in secondary education. You’ve got a flying start, if you can’t make it work in Londonyou won’t be able to make it work anywhere.”
WorldSkills UK deputy CEO Ben Blackledge told the forum, attended by industry and further education leaders, that the promotion of vocational education was vital to create a “high class knowledge economy”.
He said: “London is a global leading city and it needs world-class skills to maintain that.”
Among the challenges raised during the discussion was the effect of lockdown on students, the need for collaboration between education and industry and the lack of prestige attached to apprenticeships and vocational training.
Jo Withers, the principal of Harrow College, said she had seen students become more isolated from each other and less likely to socialise since the return after the pandemic.
She said: “We’re going to see a real impact on resilience from Covid and the social skills of young people.”
Fiona Morey, principal of the Southbank College Group, said one way of boosting the profile of vocational training was to create “that aspiration and sense of belonging”.
She said: “One of the things we’ve done is create a new technical college at Nine Elms. What’s special about it is it is a technical college that has been designed to raise the profile of technical education.
“You need to invest so the building our students come to doesn’t feel miles away from Google HQ. They need to feel they are in an environment that’s not miles away from that environment that we want them to be working in.”
Mr Blackledge said the boom in green technology highlighted the need for skills training but was also an opportunity to raise its profile. He said Britain had to “make sure the new skills we need are there and uncovered because the amount they are going to be needed over the next five to 10 years is scary.”