I am thinking of starting a short series on the theme of “big education policy decisions that can’t be dodged (but probably will be)”. There are several jockeying for the top spot, but this month the honour should go to the future of vocational – now known by the government as technical – education. Fiona Millar writes in The Guardian.
Putting skills and vocational education centre stage in the run-up to Brexit is obviously urgent, but the first three T-levels, in education and childcare, construction and digital, won’t be introduced until 2020 and the permanent secretary at the Department for Education has urged ministers (in vain) to delay over content and delivery concerns.
Failure to bridge the academic/vocational divide has bedevilled the English school system for generations and is helpfully documented in a new book, Other People’s Children, improbably written by Barnaby Lenon, a former head of Harrow school, London. The 1944 tripartite settlement proposed technical schools that never happened; a series of quickly forgotten vocational qualifications, and permutations of the FE sector, came and went as frequently as education secretaries.
Meanwhile GCSEs and A-levels are still standing and remain the qualification of choice in a financial climate where FE colleges are underfunded, schools must fight ferociously to retain their post-16 students and there are questions over the quality and availability of suitable teaching staff for the new wave of technical study.
Like many others I sincerely hope this latest heave works, but I suspect we will be having the same conversation about technical education in 10 years’ time. Nothing about the T-level/apprenticeships route convinces that the parity of esteem issue will be overcome – maybe only a baccalaureate-style qualification can do this?
But even then, we may still be missing the point. In another fascinating book, Natural Born Learners, former teacher Alex Beard travels the globe exploring innovative and often conflicting approaches to the question of how and what young people should learn in the 21st century to meet the challenges of globalisation, automation, artificial intelligence and political, cultural and economic polarisation. His journey takes the reader a long way from the content specification needed to become a hairdresser or a plumber and, important as it may be to have hairdressers and plumbers, poses some challenging questions about the skills and education needed for the future not the past.
Are T-levels doomed to fail? What can be done for post 16-students? Please tell us your thoughts in comments or via Twitter ~ Tamsin
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