Ed Miliband is to reveal radical plans for a second “gold standard” qualification similar to A-levels but focusing on technical skills.
A Labour government will provide a world-class education for the “forgotten 50 per cent” of young people who don’t go to university, he will say.
And it will ensure young people have the technical skills that manufacturers desperately need.
In his keynote speech to Labour’s annual conference in Manchester, the Labour leader will say: “I want ours to be a country where kids aspire not just to go to Oxford and Cambridge but to excellent technical colleges and elite vocational institutions.”
He will also announce plans to hand over the Government’s entire £1 billion apprenticeship budget to businesses - to ensure that they are able to train young people once they leave school.
The new qualification will be called the Technical Baccalaureate. Children will be able to choose to start working toward the qualification at the age of 14 and will continue until they are 18.
Youngsters will continue to study maths and English until 18, and will need to obtain the equivalent of GCSE grade C in both subjects in order to receive the new “Tech Bacc”.
They will also carry out in work experience and study technical skills such as design, technology or engineering. A commission will be established to determine the curriculum, in consultation with employers.
Speaking about his own education in a “tough” London comprehensive school, he will say: “At my school there were kids who were good at exams and went on to university.
“For whom the world would open up, like it did for me.
“But there were others who had different talents and abilities, but to whom school didn’t offer very much. It was true 25 years ago and it is even more true today.”
For too long, Labour focused mainly on getting young people into university and failed to pay enough attention to the remaining 50 per cent, he will say.
“For years and years, our party has those young people who go to university. And that matters.
“But it’s time now to focus on those who don’t go to university. The young people who are too often the forgotten 50 per cent.
“We cannot succeed if we have an education system which only works for half the country.”
And Mr Miliband will stress that the UK needs to value vocational qualifications more.
“We need to do what we haven’t done in decades - build a culture in our country where vocational qualifications are not seen as second class certificates but for what they can be - a real route on and up to quality apprenticeships and jobs.”
He will announce plans to give the entire government apprenticeship budget to employers, but he will also warn that every major firm will be expected to offer apprenticeships - or lose the right to bid for government contracts, worth £250 billion each year.