Letters - I want the best for our children

Richard Reeves (28 February) needs reassurance that the white paper on 14-19 education and skills is about tackling the intellectual snobbery that has left us with a second-class, second-best vocational education system. I accepted many of the recommendations of Mike Tomlinson's working group. But I went further, to try to tackle the disengagement that leads too many teenagers to drop out of education.

At the moment many vocational qualifications do not have sufficient status and do not lead to employment. If I thought that scrapping existing exams was the answer, I would have no hesitation in doing that. But you do not make vocational qualifications the equal of GCSEs and A-levels by getting rid of GCSEs and A-levels. What you do is create specialised qualifications that have high status and real currency with employers and universities.

For the first time we will move to a truly comprehensive system, where a teenager might study A-level maths in a school, technical skills at a further

education college and applied engineering in a workplace - a diploma that will be valued both by employers and top-flight universities. Only 19 per cent of children from working-class homes now go on to higher education, compared to 50 per cent of children from professional homes. This has to change. All children who have the ability need access to routes that will get them to top universities. But if they don't want to go to university, then we need to make sure they have the skills they need for a decent career.

I want to give teenagers with disadvantaged backgrounds a much better chance of getting to university. The £30-a-week education maintenance allowances have increased the staying-on rates in some parts of the country by 17 per cent. My approach is underpinned by a profound belief in social justice and a belief that background should never be a barrier to children achieving their best.

Ruth Kelly
Secretary of State for Education and Skills
London SW1

This article first appeared in the 07 March 2005 issue of the New Statesman, The Bling Bling List