Skills minister Anne Milton faced fury after saying she would tell her own children to “leave it a year” before enrolling on new T-Level qualification she is introducing.
MPs on the Commons’ education committee were pressing Milton on her timetable to deliver three of the government’s new post-16 technical courses by 2020, amid concern educators may struggle to convince parents.
Manchester Central Labour MP Lucy Powell questioned whether the time frame was “realistic”, to which the minister replied she “doesn’t underestimate the challenge”.
Milton went on to admit: “I’m a parent of four children, if somebody said to me your children can do this new qualification I would say ‘leave it a year’.
“Instinctively, that is what parents will do.”
James Frith, the Labour MP for Bury North, said he was “staggered” by her remarks on Tuesday.
He added: “I find your comments there quite remarkable, that you envisage a moment where you yourself consider what is best for your children and you would say ‘leave it there’ in regard to the qualifications that you are responsible for delivering and launching.”
Milton then tried to row back from her comments, saying: “I probably made the mistake in using my own personal experience to emphasise the point that all parents are always wary of new qualifications.
“I know that take-up will be low in the first years.”
She said it would “take a while to convince both young people and their parents” and added: “Parents are naturally and understandably cautious.”
Speaking after the hearing, Gordon Marsden, Labour’s shadow skills minister, said: “It’s astounding that the minister doesn’t have confidence in her own government’s flagship education policy.
“It is not acceptable for there to be one rule for the government, and another for everyone else.”
University and College Union general secretary Sally Hunt also spoke of her shock.
“When the minister in charge of T-levels has said she wouldn’t want her own children taking one up in their first year and the department’s permanent secretary has publicly called for their delay, it is probably time for the government to take stock,” she said.
T-Levels will make up part of a government drive to reform technical education and give it prestige to rival that of the traditional academic route.
The first 54 colleges and post-16 providers to teach new T Levels in 2020 were named in May.