By Claire West

Commenting on a speech by the Secretary of State for Education, Michael Gove, to the Edge Lecture on Technical and Vocational Education, Chris Keates, General Secretary of the NASUWT, the largest teachers' union, said:

"The Secretary of State's speech on the importance of practical vocational education highlights the importance of ensuring high status and high currency for all areas of vocational education.

"The review announced today by the Secretary of State will provide an opportunity to seek to boost the status of vocational education but it also risks widening the divide between academic and vocational learning. It would be entirely reckless to ditch the long-held ambition of securing parity of esteem across all 14-19 qualification pathways.

"There is a real danger that the review commissioned by the Secretary of State could mean that vocational education will once again be perceived as the preserve of those young people not able to cope with academic study.

"It would be profoundly damaging if the Government's reforms of 14-19 education and training resulted in fewer young people from all social backgrounds undertaking a mix of vocational and academic programmes of study.

"A broad and balanced curriculum should be an entitlement for every young person, but there is a risk that the reform of vocational qualifications could narrow study opportunities for many young people. This would seriously undermine equality of opportunity and limit social mobility.

"The current raft of vocational curricula and qualifications has been developed by employers for employers. It is unacceptable for the Government to argue for ideological reasons that existing vocational qualifications are flawed.

"Existing vocational qualifications have been robustly developed, rigorously evaluated and are independently regulated. "The sad truth of Mr Gove's speech is that the review of vocational education is a naked attempt to advance the flawed policy of academies and free schools.

"It is profoundly unhelpful that the Secretary of State has attached such great importance to the creation of university technical colleges as the mechanism for delivering a renaissance of vocational learning. There is strong and compelling evidence that establishing new academies and free schools to deliver vocational education will be socially divisive and will widen educational inequality between young people.

"The fundamental problem the Government is failing to address is the lack of access to high quality jobs and training places for today's school leavers. "The economics of austerity will result in fewer opportunities for young people regardless of the type or level of qualification achieved. "The Coalition Government's economic policy is limiting access to vocational learning and apprenticeship opportunities at a time when young people and employers need them most."