Improving vocational education – expert reaction to Sir Michael Wilshaw’s speech to the CBI

Today Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector, Sir Michael Wilshaw challenged employers to play a greater part in the provision of vocational education in a speech to the CBI East of England Conference.

Sir Michael called for a parity of esteem between traditional academic routes and vocational training and said: “We are at a watershed moment in the history of our education system. The economy is improving, jobs are more plentiful, and there is cross-party agreement on the need for more high-quality apprenticeships.

‘We, therefore, have never had a better opportunity to tackle our lamentable record on vocational education but only if we seize this moment and only if employers play their part.’

Professor Alan Brown of Warwick University’s Institute for Employment Research, here comments on how vocational courses can be given the same status as academic qualifications. He warns UK vocational courses need to be longer if we want them to be as good as those in European countries such as Austria:

“The CBI often highlight the success of the vocational route in Austria through vocational colleges, but what is seldom emphasised is that, these courses take one year longer to complete than those following the academic route in general academic schools.

The vocational college route leads to a double qualification, namely an academic baccalaureate and a vocational diploma. The academic baccalaureate provides access to university while the vocational diploma grants the right to enter higher-level occupations.

In a UK context this would mean taking an extra year to include work experience, develop problem-solving skills, strength fundamental knowledge and skills, and to focus both upon vocational and academic achievements.

To achieve breadth and depth in vocational development and to facilitate entry to higher education is simply a much bigger challenge than simply preparing people for higher education. It should be given more time.”

Comment from Professor Bill Lucas, Director: Centre for Real-World Learning at the University of Winchester:

“Vocational education is an important and undervalued pathway. But our research shows that it will only be taken seriously when the full breadth of its ambitions are clearly described.

While it is necessarily about the development of a reliably skilled workforce it must also be about the development of resourcefulness, craftsmanship, a wide set of functional literacies, business-like attitudes and wider skills for growth.

The teaching and training approaches required for this are subtle, complex and worthwhile. They are well-evidenced. Without high quality teachers using teaching and learning methods designed to produce the kind of broad outcomes just listed, vocational education will remain a second-best route. It will continue to be defined negatively by being ‘non-academic’ rather as ‘powerful learning for work and life’.

Better employer engagement is already being encouraged in the development of new apprenticeship frameworks. Employers organisations such as the CBI are beginning to argue for a broader definition of the kinds of outcomes which schools need to deliver beyond the academic

These include capabilities such as resilience, curiosity, creativity, self-control, enthusiasm. The definition of vocational education which we ask our schools and colleges to deliver needs to be framed ambitiously, confidently and expansively. That way it will begin to be an alternative choice to general routes such as GCSE and A levels – one that students will choose, parents will support and employers will wish to be engaged with.”



Notes to journalists: An example of the research Professor Lucas refers to is Lucas, B, Claxton, G and Spencer, E (2012) How to teach vocational education; a theory of vocational pedagogy, London: City & Guilds.

 

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