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22:59 on Saturday
2 August 2003

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Plumbing chairman backs call for overhaul of education

The chairman of the UK’s largest 24-hour emergency plumbing service today backed calls for a thorough overhaul of the country’s education system to help solve a serious shortage of qualified people such as plumbers. He wants revisions to the education system so that vocational skills are given equal prestige with academic qualifications.

Freddie Mitman, founder and chairman of the Peterborough-based Drain Doctor Plumbing franchise business network, said: “The age profile of plumbers is rising as schools channel more youngsters towards academic qualifications in ‘soft’ subjects that may do little to help their employability.

“An over-emphasis on academic studies has left some youngsters disenchanted with education when practical training in vocational skills could help them develop fulfilling careers and earn attractive salaries.

“Our franchisees are fully aware of the shortage of skilled plumbers and we, as the franchisor, are organising more basic training courses to ensure technicians are fully skilled. Many of our franchisees have introduced their own apprenticeships to fill the void in the education system.”

Mr Mitman was responding to reports by the Institute of Plumbing that there could be a shortfall of 29,000 plumbers over the next five years. The Institute is even encouraging more women to enter the plumbing trade.

Mr Mitman said he supports proposals in a major policy paper published by the Institute of Directors (IoD) that calls for substantial reform of Britain’s education and training system to introduce parallel pathways for youngsters to pursue either academic or vocational skills training from age 14.

Ruth Lea, head of the IoD’s policy unit said: “We need more plumbers and fewer media studies graduates. The current obsession with sending as many young people as possible into higher education undermines vocational training by making it appear a ‘second best’. This continues to put us at a disadvantage in the international vocational skills league tables.”

The report - Education and training: a business blueprint for reform - says that business is facing a shortage of skilled craftspeople, such as plumbers and people with intermediate engineering and ICT skills, because too many school leavers are siphoned off into higher education and not enough into tough and challenging vocational training.

It says the government should abandon its ‘ludicrous target’ for 50 per cent of all school leavers to pursue higher education by 2010 and introduce an option at age 14 for youngsters to follow a practical vocational pathway.

Instead of being treated as the Cinderella of the education system vocational training should be given more support so that it achieves a ‘parity of esteem’ with academic education, it adds.

The report calls for an end to the ‘one-size-fits-all’ education system, which it says fails many children, leading to alienation and truancy. It recommends ‘an unequivocal return to traditional teaching methods’ and says that parents should be given education vouchers to improve their choice of school for their children.

August 2002




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