vocational vs academic education what do you think?

The Wolf report on vocational education this week set out the way vocational education will change in the UK over the coming years and highlights significant problems in current provision. http://www.education.gov.uk/publications/standard/publicationDetail/Page1/DFE-00031-2011. It also shows how as a nation we have

Michael Gove, education secretary, when commisioning the report said
“For many years our education system has failed properly to value practical education, choosing to give far greater emphasis to purely academic achievements. This has left a gap in the country’s skills base”

Professor Wolf said
“Our current arrangements for 14-19 education are highly bureaucratic and inflexible. They also make it very difficult to encourage excellence in anything which is not conventionally academic: writing about people doing things gets rewarded more than actually doing them.”

Personally I am unhappy with the whole idea of “vocational” as against “academic” learning. Is the majority of academic learning not also designed to make you employable? and should non academic subjects not be taught as part of a holistic education to the brightest students as well as less academically able? The crafts seem to me to be one place where those academically able folk that also enjoy tangible work find a good balanced life, engineering is another. Should brain work and hand work be viewed as mutually exclusive? and does the current academic vs vocational system tend toward that view?

Current government thinking is that they want to raise the status of vocational eduction. Will they manage that without getting better quality students to consider it as an option? I feel at present vocational is viewed in school and beyond as the career choice for the academically less able. This is wrong. Many academically able people end up coming back to working with their hands out of choice at a later stage because it can be fulfilling, tangible work. The Wolf report is good and highlights some excellent schemes such as Rolls Royce apprenticeships as well as slating the vast number of low level vocational courses which are now proven to offer no improvement in job prospects.

From personal experience my own 13 year old son is very academically able, he was inspired by visiting Rolls Royce and would love to do an apprenticeship there. He is currently choosing options for yr 10, 11 and there is a motor engineering option that looks appealing in all respects other than it is the course all the “chavs” do to avoid academic subjects.

What are your thoughts?

11 Responses to vocational vs academic education what do you think?

  1. isambard March 6, 2011 at 11:24 am #

    It's about time!You're right, there is an artificial divide between 'academic' and 'vocational' which is nonsense. The UK should work towards raising the profile of it's craftsmen/women, engineers etc. Otherwise, any 14-19 year old can see the hypocrisy in a statement that acknowledges a difficulty 'to encourage excellence in anything which is not conventionally academic' yet sees a country that kowtows to finance.

  2. Thomas Bartlett March 6, 2011 at 2:23 pm #

    The book 'Shop class as soul craft' discusses this theme in great detail and is a fascinating read. I remember when I was at school the craft, design and technology courses had a certain stigma attached to them as it sounds your son's mechanics class also has.

  3. Robin Wood March 6, 2011 at 2:30 pm #

    In the UK that book is published as "the case for working with your hands" because we don't have "shop class" it is a good read, I reviewed it last year and correspond occasionally with Matt Crawford. http://greenwood-carving.blogspot.com/2010/07/case-for-working-with-your-hands.htmlThe Wolf review is a very good read and very deep and current study of the situation in the UK today.

  4. Brian March 6, 2011 at 8:28 pm #

    Hey Robin, vocational would be a great choice for some young people. Given the chance to learn real skills with the numeracy and sciences, that relate with these skills . Academic will always have its place. When I was in high school I wish we had this kind of education ,I left school with one exam pass ,craft&design .My Father had a job lined up for me, or find my own. Which I did, and I found that maths, that I couldn't get my head round in school. Made more sense when part of somthing real, rather than pages and pages of numbers. A great change would be made by doing this .Brian

  5. Alviti March 6, 2011 at 9:08 pm #

    I remember being in college doing my A levels they had a full college assembly and asked the question who wasn't going to university. I put my hand up along with 4 others. We were then asked to leave as the rest of the assembly wouldn't matter to us. I think they tried to make it feel like a walk of shame as we sulked off passed the 200 or so other students in the room.When I then went to technical college to study carpentry I felt more at home than at the academic college, unfortunatly it was filled with students who were there because they were told they had to stay in education. This made the teaching much more difficult and out of a class of 20 I'd say only 3 of us really wanted to learn.I think no matter what the government do you can only teach people that want to learn, but pushing everyone down the "academic" route has made anything else have a stigma.

  6. Robin Wood March 6, 2011 at 9:19 pm #

    @Alviti, thanks so much for posting that story, how very sad and how misguided those teachers were.

  7. Robert Howard March 7, 2011 at 7:02 am #

    I don't know what the situation is in the UK but here in Australia engineering is not much better than the other academic courses. If an engineer touches a tool on the job here he or she is likely to cause a union walk-out and a strike. I did mechanical engineering, mostly because of a vague desire to build stuff, and while I did enjoy all the design theory, mechanics, stress and strain analysis, etc, it was not until, some years after I graduated, I stumbled across fine furniture making and wood carving that I found my true vocation. Engineers (if they are lucky enough to find the right job) design, but they don't build. With woodwork, I get to do the lot: think up the idea, design, proto-type, build and then build and build as I try to perfect that idea. Just designing would not do it for me. I have a crystal clear memory of standing in the cabinet shop of the company where I managed to bluff my way into my first woodworking job, looking around at the other cabinet makers working there, and saying to myself (I was in the middle of making a Four Poster Bed) "I can't believe they are paying me to do this". I had never been so happy working. I didn't care if it was Monday or Friday.As it turned out, my engineering training has been very useful to me as a woodworker. And I do agree that craft, or creative physical work, is a great option for a lot of people who are academically capable. And although there is a bit of a stigma attached to it still, it is much better than it used to be, and getting better by the day. The hardest part is to make a decent living from it.Anyway, it is now some 25 plus years on for me, and I have no regrets at all – except, perhaps, I did waste a few years before I found my path (I was about 33 by the time I got that first job).

  8. jahit March 7, 2011 at 10:58 pm #

    It is about time there is a national recognition that vocation can also lead to inspiration, however we do have to be keep an eye on what governments percieve as vocational. For example, engineering in my opinion can be regarded as a borderline subject between academia and a vocation,(sometimes depending on how its taught) but more traditional craft subjects for instance woodcarving or pottery may not be seen as valuable as engineering because of developing global technologies. I believe there will be a three tier system. When governments say there is a 'skills gap' i am slightly concerned that they will only really value vocations that fill that skills gap. That is very important too, but we also need to make sure that the more traditional crafts are not on the third tier. All I hear from governments are high-tech, high tech and high tec.

  9. Woodland Antics March 8, 2011 at 9:27 am #

    Hi Robin,this is a pretty big subject and important stuff, the more I think about it the bigger it becomes. I trained as a scientist, became an engineer and am now a craftsman (well I aspire to being a craftsman). Looking at all of the social science classifications it seems that I am very socially mobile. Its just that I have spent my career going in the wrong direction! I am intrigued at the way that the crafts seem to attract so many engineers amongst others. It seems that there is some emotional cross-over between the engineering brain and the hand skills? I occasionally teach at a local landmanagement college and frankly it makes me cry to see the sheer waste. Shedloads of youngsters failed by their schools and now by their FE college who are simply chasing bums on seats for cash, because thats the way the system is measured. Right at the moment with councils strapped for cash all the FE colleges are being cut off at the knees so its a double whammy for the kids being fed into the system. When recently teaching polelathe on the countryside management course the tutor was waiting to find out if he was to be made redundant – after 17 years of building the course up. You could not make it up. Frankly I don't know what I would do if making these choices today – everything is so different. You are very right to be careful about the 'moto-space' courses. They are designed to add a touch of glamour to boring subjects and risk being a camel of a course, populated by more youngsters who have no inclination to work hard, no idea how hard it is to get a job and are destined to be bitterly disappointed that just turning up doesn't turn you into Michael Schmacher. I think I need to stop now before I really start ranting……..cheers Mark

  10. Woodsman Crafts March 11, 2011 at 8:04 pm #

    I completed a RR Apprenticeship from 1990-94. It was an excellent way to learn a huge range of skills. I wasn't rearly bothered about A Levels, Uni, or stigma (as most kids went on to do these or just doss about)I felt I was making an educated sensible decision for my future and it payed off. I was payed well from aged 16 and went on to do well. Ive never had to borrow, or hang my head in shame. I followed a practical route engineering, but they also sent me to college for 3 years to learn all the therory too, so it was win win with a wage!They knocked down the large training facility and changed the scheme since so im not sure on the set up now, but its good that they are still attracting youngters to work for them. A few friends still work there and are happy in a skilled job and they are have also gone on to complete HND'S and degrees too.I however always wanted to work outside and make things, and being stuck inside on shifts got to me after a couple more years so I retrained in Arboriculture, using that to gain my timber and my spare time to make things. But I owe the apprentiship for teaching some core craft skills.

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