Sunday, 6 March 2011

vocational vs academic education

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.

Michael Gove, education secretary, when commissioning 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.


  1. I beleive that the two are not mutually exclusive - the profession to which I belong is entered through a vocational degree which is currently a 4 year program with about 2 of those 4 years spent in clinical practice gaining practical experience and completing a competancy based log book - this provided the best of both with the skills required being underpinned with the knowledge to support practice. My profession is Cardiac Clinical Physiologist.

  2. One of the local high schools recently published in a newsletter that it was concerned because of a push towards the international baccalaureate, and that the way it was being pushed through didn't allow for any sort of creative subject.

    I personally was an academic student and got all the way to my degree without ever really trying anything else, I had long since dropped art because as an art teacher told me I was "doing cubism wrong".

    Though we were required at school to do a design based subject, I did electronics, so didn't really learn anything useful. The few times I did 'resistant materials' at school it was mainly making cams, it is like the most useless thing to do ever, though cooking wasn't much better at high school, at my first high school I baked a potato in the microwave and that was it for the whole year.

    I never agreed with the big push to university, when I did chemistry it all seemed so futile.

  3. If the government is serious about introducing craft based vocational courses into the national curriculum/mainstream education, then they will need a lot of new teachers.
    I was very lucky, attended a very small rural primary school in cheshire in the 1980's, spent a lot of time, drawing,painting,writing poetry and caligraphy, learning about plants, the planet and biodegradability as well as the normal academic subjects.
    Secondary school was not particularly good at developing these further to a great extent, art, ceramics and textiles, but CDT technology in my first year at age 11 involved making a spatula which took about 6 weeks (maybe more) and involved the pupils drawing the shape on seasoned wood, the teacher cutting them out on a bandsaw and then students sanding them for weeks!. A broad range of A levels meant I was able to go on to study architecture at Edinburgh University. So in some sense I was and am "academically" able.
    Currently leading a double life where my professional career is primarily digital (using computers, albeit in a creative field). My craft, art skills, creative skills (green wood working, drawing,painting, photography) have always been there alongside, but at the moment are still more of a hobby which lets me give friends and family hand made gifts for birthdays, weddings etc.
    I think that alot of problems that would be encountered at secondary school level would be to do with class size. For green wood working, (in inner city london schools). How are you going to convince health and safety that its acceptable to have 30 students in a class room using axes, knives and other sharp tools. Certainly the prejudices that surround knife crime will be hard to overcome, even if you are able to explain the difference between a tool and a weapon, all it takes is one wayward pupil and you have a serious situation.
    Having said that, I think that society in general could benefit hugely from a shift from commercial consumerism to craft creation, and I would be happy to demonstrate the art and soul of spoon making to any group of students/school who is interested.

  4. My opinion is that the education system should be more open and flexible - regardless of early academic achievements, people should be able to dip in and out of academic-level learning throughout their lives.

    I work with medieval jewellery techniques, as well as working as a contemporary bench jeweller, and the thing I most regret is not working harder in maths, chemistry and art - all subjects that would benefit me now, even at GCSE or A-Level standard.

    Personally, I didn't find out what I really wanted to do with my life until I was 23, so I think that teenagers should alternate periods of working and learning as they please.

    I particularly like the remark: "writing about people doing things gets rewarded more than actually doing them" - making does need to be considered equal to thinking. But it can't be mandated from above; it isn't the government's responsibility to make this happen - the public need to accept low-wage apprenticeships and unpaid internships. Why are we happy to pay for university education, but not to recieve vocational training for free?


  5. I really love your write-ups guys continue the good work.
    Academic Skills