The first schools and colleges to teach new technical qualifications called T-levels have been announced.
From 2020, they will offer teenagers in England courses in construction, digital, and education and childcare.
Each course will include a three-month work placement and are intended as vocational alternatives to A-levels.
Prime Minister Theresa May said they would help the UK to “compete globally”, but Labour called the plans “little more than meaningless spin.”
A further 22 courses will be rolled out in stages from 2021 which will cover sectors such as finance, hair and beauty, engineering, and the creative industries.
The courses’ curriculums are being “created by expert panels of employers,” the government said.
The first 52 high schools and colleges to teach the courses span all parts of England.
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Education secretary Damian Hinds said England currently had too many courses on offer for 16 to 19-year-olds, which could be confusing for parents, students and industry.
“We haven’t been teaching enough hours” or had businesses as involved as they should be, he told the BBC’s Andrew Marr programme.
“This is a really big reform,” he said.
T-levels will become one of three main options for post-16 study alongside apprenticeships and A levels.
Government figures show the majority of 17-year-olds in England in 2016 were not studying A-levels.
‘Gold standard qualifications’
Businesses want people with technical education and workplace experience to “help them fill the skills gap,” said Jane Gratton, head of skills policy at the British Chambers of Commerce.
She said: “T-levels will be an important part of the solution.”
The new two-year courses will have more teaching hours than most current technical programmes and will include a compulsory work placement of 40-60 working days.
A report from policy think tank the Resolution Foundation said the success of T levels would be “contingent” on getting commitment from employers and the “appropriate levels of funding”.
It pointed to the fact that businesses around the country would need to welcome some 100,000 students for work placements which presents an “operational challenge” and also a “challenge to the current relationship that exists between business, education and young people”.
Earlier in May, Jonathan Slater, a top official at the Department for Education, wrote to Mr Hinds saying it would be “challenging” to ensure the first three T-levels are ready to be taught from 2020 to a “consistently high standard”.
Mr Hinds rejected the claims, saying: “Naming the first 52 colleges and providers where young people will be able to study the first T-levels is an important step forward.”
Mrs May said the new courses were the “most significant reform to advanced technical education in 70 years” and would “ensure young people have gold standard qualifications open to them, whichever route they choose”.
But Prof Alan Smithers, director of the Centre for Education and Employment Research at the University of Buckingham, warned parents of encouraging their children to take them.
“It must be absolutely clear they will be of value to employers before kids risk their futures,” he told the Times newspaper.
And Angela Rayner, the shadow education secretary, said the government was attempting to hide its “failure to properly prepare” for T-levels.
“World-class technical education cannot simply be delivered by press release, while avoiding the impact of years of cuts on the sector,” she said.