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Manchester Mayor plans equal technical and academic education paths for city-region’s youth under new devolved powers


THE Mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, has outlined ambitious plans to create two equal pathways for young people when they make their GCSE choices – one academic and one focussed on technical careers.

As part of the Trailblazer Devolution Deal, Greater Manchester will have further oversight of post-16 technical skills, allowing local leaders to better shape how the city-region supports the one-in-three young people who do not want to go to university, and match them into the skilled jobs being created in the local economy.

Meet the MBacc

As part of this, the mayor has proposed the idea of a Greater Manchester Baccalaureate (MBacc) for technical education, which would sit alongside the existing English Baccalaureate (EBacc) for those wanting to pursue a university education. Currently, almost two-thirds of 16-year olds in Greater Manchester do not pursue or achieve an EBacc. An MBacc is designed to plug that gap.

Under the current system, young people are offered a clear pathway to university through the EBacc at age 14 – a set of subjects opening up opportunities to A-Levels, university and employment.

The proposal is that by September 2024 the MBacc will guide students towards subjects which will maximise their chances of getting a good job in the regional economy, such as in engineering, computer science or the creative subjects. Young people on the MBacc route would take subjects such as engineering, business studies and art and design alongside the core of maths, English and computer science or an ICT equivalent. A consultation with government and local partners would take place on the proposed MBacc route subjects.

The EBacc is designed to maximise young people’s chances of a good university place, while in comparison the MBacc is designed to maximise their ability to get a good job in the growing success story of the Greater Manchester economy.

The MBacc will be designed to steer young people on the technical route to seven different career gateways at age 16, which represent the strongest areas of the Greater Manchester economy, including:

  • Manufacturing and Engineering
  • Financial and Professional
  • Digital and Technology
  • Health and Social Care
  • Creative, Culture and Sport
  • Education and Early Years
  • Construction and Green Economy.

Each of the gateways will lead to a group of quality T-Levels – vocational alternatives to A-levels developed in collaboration with employers – accompanying work placements and other technical qualifications. Currently, 16-to-18-year-olds can take T-Levels at 24 approved providers in the city-region, with more qualifications set to become available over the next few years.


Enhancements to Greater Manchester Apprenticeship and Careers Service

As part of the proposals, Greater Manchester Apprenticeship and Careers Service (GMACS) will also be enhanced, sitting alongside the UCAS system available to university applicants.

The platform would enable young people to explore and apply for technical education options, as well as access a wider package of support and enrichment activity. GMACS was established for young people searching and applying for apprenticeships, with plans to expand the service with applications available for other post-16 options.

Higher apprenticeships for 18-year-olds

At age 18, young people would then have the opportunity to progress to a higher-level apprenticeship, or degree apprenticeship, which are highly valued by Greater Manchester employers and give young people the chance to continue their learning.

The plans for technical education also include working with employers in the city-region to match the skills needed in Greater Manchester’s economy through the creation of employer boards, ensuring a clear line of sight to the jobs available. There would also be the creation of further workplace experiences, curriculum enrichment and other opportunities that support the development of soft skills and entry to the world of work.

Burnham said: “For too long we have ignored the value of technical skills and that ends today in Greater Manchester. We want to create equivalent opportunities for our young people in Greater Manchester and ensure they are provided with the tools to achieve their career aspirations, with the idea of an MBacc, developing our GMACS offer and through partnership working with employers.

“The EBacc is great for young people who want to go onto university, but there is no equivalent suite of qualifications at 14 and 16 that align with the real-life employment opportunities being created in our city-region. There is also no direct link to employers, leading to skills gaps in the Greater Manchester economy and confusion from young people on what they need to do to secure a job in their chosen industry. Today is the start of the journey of creating a clear and equal pathway for technical education.”

The recent Trailblazer Devolution Deal confirmed a new partnership between Greater Manchester and the government to provide oversight of post-16 technical education and skills. This builds on the success of the devolution of the Adult Education Budget (AEB) which saw the city-region take on responsibility for adult skills in August 2019, and GM Working Well (Work & Health Programme), part of a suite of employment support programmes that help people with health conditions to move towards or into sustained work.

The proposals will now be discussed with the government, which is currently committed to delivering a Conservative Party manifesto “ambition” to see 90 per cent of pupils studying the EBacc subjects by 2025.

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