Apprenticeships must have “parity of esteem” with A-levels and school children should be transferred into either an academic or vocational route at the age of 14, said Sir Michael Wilshaw chief inspector of schools and head of Ofsted.

During his speech to delegates attending a Confederation of British Industry (CBI) conference in Cambridge yesterday [18 November] Wilshaw said apprenticeships must be sold “aggressively” to schools, parents and young people and high-quality vocational education must be readily available to all pupils in the same way academic education is.

“It should be seen as a valid option for every student and not as the consolation prize for those who cannot do anything else,” he said.

He also said that employer engagement needed to be at the forefront of any reform, and all vocational training “must give a clear line of sight to work”.

Schools, said Wilshaw, should form clusters around a top performing school or college with at least one of the organisations having a strong vocational provision. He said: “Pupils at all the schools in the cluster would have access to high-quality vocational training from 14, including those who are typically deemed ‘academic high achievers’.

“Students on either path would be free to access the specialist teaching available in the other and would not be stuck in one route. Let me stress this isn’t about selection at 14 – it’s about maximum opportunity at 14.”

Karen Silk, managing director of engineering recruitment firm Capital International Staffing, told Recruiter that such reforms were long overdue. “I think it is a positive move,” she said. “Not every child has an academic bias, and may have skills and talents that do not come out via an academic route.

“I think it is a crying shame that we have lost that opportunity for children to be able to choose to go on a more vocational route and for it to be recognised as a valid and skilled way to move into the future workplace.”

She added: “I’m absolutely behind this. It’s what should have happened ages ago.”

Later on in his speech, Wilshaw also said that more employers should get involved with schools by mentoring pupils and offering work experience. Large employers, he said, should help smaller ones by working through their supply chain to share and support apprenticeships.

He said: “They could help organise apprenticeships at a local level, take the lead on recruitment, give advice on how to source training and help SMEs to access apprenticeships.

“In short, all our best intentions to provide more and better apprenticeships could flounder if employer organisations at a local level are not better co-ordinated and well led.”

Source: Recruiter