I recently visited some impressive young people at Campsmount College in Campsall, which is in my constituency, for a question and answer session.
The range and depth of the questions put to me by the year 9 and 10 pupils, and the enthusiasm they showed for their school and what it could offer them, was wonderful to see.
They were all working towards their GCSE exams and most, but not all, intended to take A-levels, then go to university.
But, around Doncaster and Dearne Valley, and the rest of the country, there are currently around 50 per cent of young people who do not currently go to university – and they are being let down.
It’s clear to me that the conventional academic route doesn’t work for everyone, and for too long our country has believed it is the only route to success.
That’s why I believe our education system needs to change if we are to help all young people prepare for a decent future and if we are to build the high-skill, high-wage economy we need to succeed as a country.
Not enough attention has been paid to the options available to young people who do not go to university.
This ‘forgotten 50 per cent’ face a confusing mix of vocational courses, many of which do not offer progression to good jobs or further study.
This is failing young people and holding back businesses, which can’t get the skills they need to succeed.
So I plan to end the culture that says the academic route is always best and vocational skills are second best, with radical reforms to our education and skills system to create a clear route.
I have already set out measures to introduce a new gold standard vocational qualification for 16-19 year-olds, tackle poor standards in English and maths, raise the standard of further education colleges and radically improve the quality and quantity of apprenticeships.
I intend to fix this problem, and reform our skills system to underpin the high-wage, high-skill, high quality economy we will build together for the future.
This is a new direction for our country: equal status for vocational qualifications from school to university and beyond.
It means equipping our young people with the skills they need and providing our country with a reason to be confident for the future so we can compete with the very best economies in the world in a race to the top.
q Ed was in America this week and met with President Barack Obama on Monday to discuss foreign crises engulfing the world.
He tweeted a picture of himself, the President and other diplomats shaking hands around a table and posted: “I’ve just had warm and friendly talks with President Obama discussing Ukraine, Gaza, Europe and the economy.”