Posts Tagged ‘Vocational Education’

Too young to decide?

October 5, 2015 3 comments

“Sir, I’m not even allowed to buy a bottle of wine to have with my dinner. How am I supposed to choose what I want to do for the rest of my life?”

A year 13 pupil in my home team (tutor group) asked me that today while discussing her UCAS choices and it stopped me in my tracks. The realisation of just how stressful year 13 can be and just how young year 13 students are really hit me. How many of us really know how we want to spend the rest of our lives when we are that age? I was still dreaming of “making it” in the music business, although I did thing teaching was the most likely back up plan. When it came to choosing a course for University I picked maths, not because I knew I wanted to be a maths teacher – I was considering it, but if I had fully committed to the idea then I would have done the 4 year maths with QTS. I chose it because I loved it and was good at it. The option of teaching was still there but so were careers in finance, accounting and plenty of other things, even research mathematics and lecturing. I had ideas, but no solid plan – I was lucky that maths opens so many doors.

I’ve written recently about Vocational Education. How we, as a country, have been getting it wrong for far too long and how we need to address this. I put forward a vision of a world where vocational qualifications were as rigorous and as respected as academic qualifications. This is still something I feel strongly about, but this students words made we wonder if I’d missed something. At what age would we be requiring young people to make the choice? What if a 13 year old choses a path and the 17 year old version of the person wishes he’d made the other choice? What if, like the student I was talking to, someone has no idea what they want to do?

It made me think, perhaps a general education, that covers a bit of everything, would be best. Allowing people to keep their options open until as late as possible. That would certainly be a good option for those who don’t know what they want to do. Perhaps along side these qualifications we need some rigorous conversion courses. A way for an 18 year old who chose the vocational route to convert back to the academic, or a way for an 18 year old who chose academic to switch to the vocational.

What’s clear to me is that the whole system needs a rethink. We are putting far too much pressure on 16/17/18/19 year olds who are often not emotionally strong enough to deal with it. Then we add to the pressure with talk of student loans and lifelong debt. Surely a graduate tax would be a more favourable approach? Surely education should be free, and be a right?

For now, I’ll continue to guide as best as I can. To try to help these young people to make the right choice for them, in a system that seems stacked against them, and certainly has its limitations.

To Ebacc, or not to Ebacc

June 19, 2015 Leave a comment

This post was originally published on Labour Teachers, available here, on 25th June 2015.

My Geography teacher; the head of year 9; the head of year ten; the head of geography; two deputy heads; the head of maths and my form tutor. They’re the people I remember “having a conversation” with regarding my GCSE options, and more pertinently the fact I’d chosen wrong.

The school I attended had a two year key stage 4, as was the norm then, so it was the end of year 9 that we needed to pick our options in. The choice itself wasn’t massively wide. We had to do maths, English, double science, RE, A language (mine was Spanish) – and obviously we had to do core PE, although this wasn’t examined. This left room for three choices, one was technology- I’m led to believe technology was a legal requirement. I chose IT and electronics (2 short courses and I was told this was because IT didn’t count as a technology).

Then there were two option blocks. One had a limited number of subjects. History, Geography, IT and maybe a couple more. The other had these and all the other subjects one would expect. I chose history and music. The school encouraged all students (well the vast majority) to take either history or geography. Those deemed bright were supposed to take both. I was deemed bright.

I felt under a but of pressure from a few directions, and if I hadn’t had supportive parents and a supportive music teacher I may have folded. I’m glad I didn’t. I enjoyed my music GCSE, I studied it beyond GCSE and I found it as academically demanding as the others. I also set a precedent, I was the first male for years to take music but that increased quickly.

What’s this got to do with Ebacc?

I’m not sure, I know when reading Nicky Morgan’s comments today I felt a little annoyed, having been in the situation described above. However, I do feel that the Ebac ensures that all learners have access to a good broad grounding. I’m glad I did music, but I’m equally glad I did the others as well.

I worry that the focus shifting as it is will see subjects like music and art shoved a side and that would be a tragedy. I like the curriculum model Tom Sherrington (@headguruteacher) has shared recently, as it offers a good grounding which includes something creative.

What about Vocational Education?

For too long we’ve got vocational education wrong. The rise of GCSE equivalent qualifications meant that learners could in fact walk away with a bagful of “GCSE equivalents” but arrive in the post school world to discover they are anything but. The Ebac and other recent changes have been positive in that respect, but they seem write off Vocational Education completely. Which is a shame as the idea is sound, we’ve just got it wrong for a long time.

So, what are you saying?

I think the Ebacc is nice in theory, but there are potentially worrying side affects for creative subjects. I also think that all the policy at the moment is patching up holes, instead of sorting out the structural damage.

I like Tristram Hunt’s recent ideas regarding scrapping GCSEs and implementing a baccalaureate system that has two truly equivalent qualifications, one academic and one vocational, or technical. This is an idea that seems to be backed by John Cridland of CBI and could link in to changes on HE too, with technical degrees being introduced to increase the expertise in manufacturing.

What I’d like the Labour Leadership candidates to say on Education

June 6, 2015 1 comment

This post was first published 16th June 2015 on Labour Teachers here

I have just read this post from Duncan Hall (@doktordunc) on Labour Teachers (@labourteachers) outlining what he’d like the Labour Leadership candidates to say on education and I thought I would draft my own wish list on the topic.

Qualified Teacher Status

I’ve written about this before, and it’s still something that I feel is extremely important. Teachers should either be qualified or working towards a qualification. Teacher education gives a good grounding in pedagogy,  ensures a minimum level of subject knowledge and ensures fair payment for the teacher.

Bring back our schools

For too long we’ve seen the dismantling of local authorities and the removal of schooling from state control. Some of the “freedoms” offered are worrying, no need for the national curriculum etc. I am also worried by big academy chains and their motives. I know from experience many small chains are run well,  but as the bigger chains expand I worry about what will happen. I worry about a race to the bottom,  how cheaply can we run this school, and ultimately a switch into a for profit nature of schooling. I’d go further and suggest all schools, including private schools, be brought into local authorities to ensure minimum standards are met and raised and all children received a top quality education.

Vocational Education

For too long we have tried, and failed, to create an educational system that caters for all. Vocational education is something we have repeatedly got wrong. I’d love to see the leadership candidates discussing how we can get it right, make it a real alternative with the same rigour and esteem as it’s academic counterpart. I was intrigued by Tristram Hunt’s comments on this pre election and would have liked to see how they panned out.

Political Education

I do worry about the lack of knowledge some school leavers show about politics and democracy. It’s something that has been looked at before,  but has not improved in recent years. I’d like to see compulsory political education for all, giving a broad overview of the way our democracy runs and the history behind how and why it developed as it did.

Teacher Recruitment

I’d like to see the teacher shortage acknowledged and addressed. Consecutive government’s have thrown money at teacher recruitment but have not really addressed the issues. The first think I’d like to see is an end to “teacher bashing” from the political elite. Some of the criticisms Gove levied at the profession and the insults will have weakened public perception of teachers which is already lower than it should be. I’d like to hear candidates put forward ideas to improve the status as I think that’s the way we can recruit passionate people into the profession and hold onto the ones we’ve got.

An End to GCSEs?

April 24, 2015 2 comments

This article was originally published on Labour Teachers here.

This week Tristram Hunt postulated in the Guardian that a Labour government may look to phase out GCSEs all together. if you didn’t catch the article, have a look here.

It’s an interesting article, and I have to say I like some of the things he’s saying. Firstly, he’s ruling out radical quick reform. This is something that has been playing on my mind, after 4 years of Gove’s fast paced reformation I feel we need time to let it embed. We haven’t assessed the new GCSEs or A Levels yet and won’t for a few years, and I feel it is right to let this take place given the work that is already underway. I happen to think the new maths curricula are in fact better than the old ones so am looking forward to teaching the new content. I am happy, though, that there are plans afoot to restore the AS /A level link.

The second thing I liked about Tristram’s comments was that he feels there is a wider discussion to be had, and that the education agenda needs to be thought through in a long term manner. This is something Gove never really seemed to think. With him it was reform, reform, reform. Some good, some bad, all fast. It felt like consultations were being hidden because they were being done over the six week summer holidays where many involved in education are refreshing themselves ahead of the new academic year. Tristram seems committed to taking views from all stakeholders and working with the sector, rather than imposing on it.

Finally, there is the proposal itself. An end to the current model and a total overhaul of everything we know! It’s a scary prospect, but also an exciting one.

I’ve written before about vocational education and our repeated failure, as a nation, to get it right. Maybe this is how we can. Instead of single subjects the suggestion is that students would leave with a baccalaureate. This could be academic or vocational and both would be equivalent.

The ins and outs aren’t fleshed out in the article, but I would envision a core section (possibly covering the old “three Rs”, basic history, hopefully some political education) and then a wide selection of options. I believe other countries run similar types of programmes. I’d imagine it gives a lot of scope for choice.

I do have reservations though, and I would certainly need more information before I could definitely say I agreed with the proposal. It’s unclear when students would sit it. We’ve seen a requirement introduced for young people to be in education or training up until 18, but if the baccalaureate was assessed at 18 would those choosing apprenticeships and the such from 16 leave school with nothing? Would study towards a baccalaureate be a requirement for said apprenticeships? Or would young people need to stay in school until 18? What exactly would the baccalaureate look like? How would we ensure the technical baccalaureate and the academic one hold the same footing? All in all, an interesting development that opens a much wider conversation.

What do you think about these proposals? Do you think this could be the way forward, or would you prefer to keep the system as is? I’d love to know!

Vocational Education

April 16, 2015 3 comments

This was the week they came, the manifestos. I’ve been waiting for them in anticipation and it was beginning to feel they’d never come. I love manifesto season and I’ve started to read and digest them.

One thing that jumped out at me in the Labour manifesto was a renewed commitment to vocational educational. Vocational Education is something that has been on the fringes of education policy in the UK for a long time, but we haven’t ever managed to get it right.

Last year I had the privilege to see Professor Geoff Hayward deliver a lecture on vocational education. Geoff was, at the time, head of the school of education at Leeds University but he has since moved to the same role at Cambridge. Geoff spoke about vocational education, and how British society has repeatedly failed to provide for “the forgotten 50%”. (He also go wrote “Education for all: The future of education and training for 14-19 year olds” which is,well worth a read.)

One of the first things he spoke of was the 1963 Newsom Report “Half our future”. He went into great detail about the report, and the first thing I did when I got home was download it and read it myself. It is a very interesting piece which sets out many aims for Education Policy that have only recently cone to fruition, and some that are still vastly needed.

This year’s Labour manifesto speaks of the “50% of young people who don’t want to go down the traditional academic route,” this is the same “forgotten 50%” Geoff referred to and the “Half our future” that the Newsom Report wanted to improve outcomes for. We were getting it wrong for these people in 1963 and we’re still getting it wrong now.

The manifesto outlines a hope that a full route from school to employment can be created, higher investment into vocational education at FE and HE. Technical colleges and technical degrees which can be done in conjunction with work places. One would hope these would have the rigour of their academic counterparts and would increase the technical expertise in the British workforce.

The last labour government did a lot of good for education, but didn’t quite get it right with vocational education. People were pushed into academia when they didn’t want to be or weren’t suited to it. The vocational courses pushed were often seen as inferior to their equivalents and there was no real rigour in them. Ideas of students blindly copying off the board and receiving good passes were rife and often near the mark. This meant that students were leaving with handfuls of qualifications that didn’t really mean much. The diploma was,another decent idea that was a failure in its implementation. Instead of inferior qualifications, what we need is real, rigorous, vocational qualifications that require actual hard work and skill to achieve.

For this type of education to be a success we need to create better links with the employers, more rigour in the qualifications and bring in other aspects but in a setting that is more relevant to the workplace. The qualifications need to be worth something and they need to hold the same footing as their academic counterparts. We need to get away from the stigma of vocational qualifications being for those who “can’t” do the academic stuff, and move to a view that actually its just as important to have a highly skilled technical workforce in place in this country. The manifesto looks like steps are being taken to ensure that this time things work out right. Let’s hope enough time and money is included to ensure it does, and let’s cross our fingers that it isn’t another nice idea that fails to deliver.

Equality, Engagement and Lifelong Learning

October 16, 2013 Leave a comment

Today has been a good day, 3 of my lessons went fantastically well, one went quite well and the other was a mock (not my favourite things, but certainly things that are useful to measure the progress of the class and inform future planning). Then after work I attend a seminar at Leeds University with a particularly inspirational speaker.

The seminar was nominally around the future of Vocational education at post 16, but in reality it was much wider and focused around the bigger issues of engagement, pedagogy and education policy.

The starting point for the seminar was the 1963 Newsom Report: Half Our Future. At the start of the seminar the summary of the report (as displayed here) and I was immediately stricken by the amount of the suggestions in the summary which were entirely relevant today.

Equality of education

The report and the seminar both look at the importance of education, and how a fair society would incorporate and equality in education. Equality is something I feel extremely passionate about equality in education (I have written before on this subject here and here). I feel that as a society we are failing if we allow the future if our children to be mapped out by the postcode they are born in, or any other reason for that matter. During the seminar the reasons for inequality were broached and It was suggested that the reason for this was political, and rooted in the class system in the UK. This really got me thinking, I have written briefly about this before, but I have never thought about it on this level. On my way home I ran into traffic, and I had many of the issues raised running round my head. I couldn’t help but wonder how different the country would be if people like Kier Hardie hadn’t fought for an equal education. Would we still be born into lives which were fully mapped our? Would I be hard at work in a manufacturing plant because I am a Yorkshireman? These are the questions I was left with and I’m pretty sure that the answers would be yes. For these reasons I feel that we are in a situation where our education policy is too closely linked to political ideology. This gives rise to vast changes which are not given a proper chance. The role of Education Secretary has been something of a revolving door, and as such the changes have been fast and frequent. This worries me. I feel that policy decisions should be made in the best interests of all the young people in the country, not to make political points, and I see a need for a review of the structures involved, if we are to see an improvement.

Vocational education

During the seminar I found out some interesting facts about vocational education and the different approaches that different countries take on it. I was interested to hear that those with the most success are those who offer a wide range of general education, along with the vocational training. This made me think of the recent policy discussions in the UK around new core maths qualifications at post 16 level. I think there is a need for further maths study past the GCSE grade C, but I think it should be focussed around numeracy and functional maths, as opposed to the abstract, and technical, maths covered at A Level. A Level maths should prepare those who do it for further academic study (preferably in maths, but equally in economics, one of the sciences or the such). This new qualification should prepare students for the rest of their lives. It should enhance their opportunities academically and in future careers. I’ve yet to see anything concrete about the New qualification, but I’m looking forward to finding out about it when it arrives.


Engagement is something that is a problem for many in the country, and something that everyone has a say in. A portion of the seminar was around reengaging the disengaged, and this is something I’m keen to know more about. The figures around those who are classified as NEET are quite worrying, but they are improving. The fact that these figures are higher in areas where there is more poverty is a sign that we still have a long way to go before we find a truly equal society, with an education system offering true equality.

I spent some time on the drive home thinking about engagement. Thinking about my classes specifically and the levels of engagement in them. The persistent absentees who disengage from school entirely, and the disengaged pupils who come to school, but avoid work. As teachers we need to recognise that these pupils are as worthy of our time than all the others, and we must endeavour to give them an equal shot at success. I don’t have the answer to how. I feel every pupil is different, every class is different, and we need to keep trying new things until we can achieve this goal. (You can see other post on engagement here, here, here and here).

Lifelong learning

Hattie, my current reading list (which is quite long) includes this name a few times, because almost every blog or article I read, and inset or MA training I attend or any conversation I have involves him. I’m yet to read any of his meta analyses, but I’m led to believe that his findings suggest that the most important factor to improve outcomes is that teachers see themselves as learners. And this is something I can fully understand. I love learning, and would like to continue to be a learner for my whole life, this learning mindset is important, I hope it will rub off and inspire my pupils to look at continued education and to raise their aspirations. I can also see that being a learner will help me teach, my brain will be in learning mode and I will find it easier to think like a learner, thus will aid my planning and help me ensure pupils are making the best progress. Finally, my MA is in Education and Professional Enquiry, I will be analysis and conducting research and applying it to my own practice, thus keeping my practice in a state of constant reflection, renewal and hopefully improvement.

Now, I just need to find some time to knock some titles off this reading list….

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