Stephen Cavadino is a maths teacher (and fanatic) from Leeds. He is a member of the Labour party. You can read of his musings on maths, teaching and life at cavmaths.wordpress.com . When he isn’t teaching; writing about, or doing maths he spends the majority of his time with his family, watching rugby (both codes) and playing guitar.
Last week was the week they came, the manifestos. I’ve been waiting for them in anticipation and it was beginning to feel like 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 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.