Don't force all kids down academic path
Mukesh Kashyap MCIOB, senior lecturer in construction management at Nottingham Trent University, and chairman for the Construction Industry Council (CIC) East Midlands, laments the downgrading of Vocational Qualifications.
The decision to downgrade many vocational qualifications does not speak of far sightedness. Vocational qualifications have traditionally provided vital skills for the workplace and have been trusted by industry employers. The changes resulting from Professor Alison Wolf’s review of vocational education will reduce more than 3,000 vocational qualifications, equivalent to GCSEs in current league tables to 125; out of which only 70 will count towards the main performance measure of five A* to C grades. The main concern for many will be how young people get in to good jobs without going down the traditional academic route. Whilst the Government hasn’t cancelled courses outright, the exclusion from league tables may lead to schools abandoning BTecs and City and Guilds courses. The decision will not only undermine but alienate 14 - 19 year olds.
The value of vocational courses cannot be undermined by thinking that the courses would not lead directly into employment - there are more than 15% of university graduates who struggle to find their first jobs or, in worse circumstances, change the route and opt for new streams not directly related to their course of study. Qualifications need not be just linked to academic education as some could have easily excelled had they been given the option of the right education. Despite the significant interest and uptake of vocational training courses there is still great disparity between vocational qualifications and socially acceptable academic qualifications.
An analysis by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) showed the UK had gone from having the third-highest graduation rate among industrialised countries in 2000 to 15th place in 2008. The fact that there are more than 10% students who drop out from university courses shows that not everyone is academically inclined. This also informs that there is scope and place for different route of qualifications to produce workforce with vocational qualifications.
The industry led initiative of University Technical Colleges (UTCs) for construction related qualifications is right in criticising the government’s move to downgrade the value of hundreds of vocational qualifications in school league tables, as schools need to look beyond the performance measures and league tables to assess their value for young achievers. This is an irony that while on one hand we talk about skills shortage and revamping the construction industry and on other hand we are not providing the right options to our youngsters to enter our industry by downgrading of vocational qualifications.
Learning is not a one dimensional process and it shouldn’t be identified with group of achievers just because they had privilege to have education route. Levels of education vary, but the route our youngsters decide to take should be entirely their decision based on what suits them best. This could depend on their aptitude, interest, social upbringing and financial position, especially when university fees are likely to cost at least triple of what it is today. The reality is that vocational courses offer the opportunity to work in the industry with a practical career, currently much needed skills held within various industries for example, construction and construction related trades. The failure to recognise the need for these courses will cause some real problems when, either sooner or later, the industry stands up and there will be no one there to fill the boots of an aging workforce. Instead, there will be a generation who may have the scholastic education but lack the right skills and experience.”