Edge and Vocational Education

Prompted by seeing an ad in the 6 October issue of the Guardian I have been looking at this campaign group’s website. Their view is that vocational education is undervalued and that the current education system is too obsessed with getting people into university.

I confess I am in two minds about this. In the pre-comprehensive days, grammar schools did the academic education and the secondary moderns did the vocational. Which type of school you went to depended on your success or otherwise in an examination taken at the end of  your primary education. My fear is that Edge is trying to re-introduce bipartite education by the back door.

It is true that some students are good at academic subjects which involve a lot of writing and some are good at practical “hands-on” subjects. It is also true that some are good at both and some are rubbish at both which is why the notion of separate schools for vocational and academic subjects disturbs me.

Having said that, it is clearly a mistake by comprehensive schools to try to fit all pupils into the academic mould. As some are quite plainly not academic, the result is dumbed-down courses such as the travesty that is Twenty-First Century Science. To my mind, education has two purposes; to teach children about the world in which they live and to prepare them for life as adults. Part of this preparation must surely be teaching them the skills they need to earn a living.

It seems reasonable, therefore, that schoolchildren should be exposed to vocational subjects as well as academic – at least for the first three years of secondary education. When students choose the subects they wish to study for GCSE, it should not be a matter of either academic or vocational courses. For example, students studying mainly academic subjects should not be prevented from taking a course in domestic electrics. Such a course would benefit them when they set up home for themselves and would give a career option if, at 16 or 18, they decide that further academic study – or a desk job – is not for them.

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2 Responses to “Edge and Vocational Education”

  1. dvnutrix Says:

    I strongly agree that it should not be a severe split. One of my mother’s class whines about her time at school was that although it was a Grammar School, because it was single-sex, the science facilities were lamentable. She took her physics A-level without ever having wired a plug. The girls who decided to study science A-levels made a few trips to the science block of the nearest grammar school for boys but that was a mess for both schools and didn’t happen often.

    She also resents that she had to spend a compulsory 3 years taking needlework and Domestic Science when learning basic joinery and plumbing (or how to wire a plug) would have been far more valuable to her in later life.

  2. coatgal Says:

    “It seems reasonable, therefore, that schoolchildren should be exposed to vocational subjects as well as academic – at least for the first three years of secondary education.”

    The funny thing is that this is exactly when we fail to expose them to much of the ‘vocational’ (practical) curriculum out there. Art and DT and that’s about it at KS3 in my school.

    On a similar point, I am becoming heartily fed-up with the government/senior management notion that less-able kids should be encouraged to do vocational subjects because they will be better at these. Implying you do not need to be intelligent/understand ‘stuff’ to be a plumber, electrician, builder and so on. Sure, there will be a proportion of pupils who are more practically/career minded and they will do better, but vocational qualifications are not a cure-all.

    I wonder whether the oft-quoted statement ‘too many pupils are not getting 5 A*-Cs’ should be replaced with ‘too many pupils can’t get 5 A*-Cs and we sent a lot of the jobs for such pupils overseas to be done for 50 pence an hour?’

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