Practical Courses: Everybody is not the same

In response to changes to the design of the official government school league tables, IPPR (Institute for Public Policy Research) found that 60 per cent of schools are cutting back on their work-focused, technical and practical courses. The reforms to the league table will mean that practical qualifications will count as less when compared to traditional academic GCSEs; these courses range from engineering through to animal care.  However, it is very important to remember that the academic route is not the best route for everyone.

From research for my dissertation on schools in England, I do agree that some schools tend to use vocational qualifications as a ‘easier’ way to boost their position within the league table.  But this can dangerously force bright students that are able to study traditional subjects (maybe with a bit more individualised efforts from the school) into ‘easier’ vocational courses.

I chose Food Technology as one of my GCSE options at school. I was warned against it and my decision was frowned upon when applying to Further and Higher Education. The automatic assumption that choosing a practical course means you must not be that bright is a very poor assumption to make! At age 15, learning six or more traditional subjects full time as part of a socially constructed path, to be able to go to a good College and University is extremely challenging. Why can’t a young person be allowed and dare I might say encouraged to pick a course that is just as stimulating and worthwhile but in a different way.

We are facing a huge paradox, with youth unemployment at 14 million across Europe and just under a million NEETs in England; there are 2 million jobs in Europe that cannot be filled because of a mismatch of skills.  And the paradox: these unfilled jobs require more technical training. There needs to be more respect for the vocational route a lot more than the current government is giving. Countries like Germany and Austria place a significant amount of importance on vocational education and recognise its value and contribution to both society and the individual.

I think the consequences of the school league table reform is a typical scenario of what happens when oblivious civil servants place more value on numbers, positions on league tables than on educating pupils on a personal level and in preparation for life and the labour market.

Financial Times Article: School Cut Back On Practical Courses 

2 Comments on “Practical Courses: Everybody is not the same

  1. Seyi,

    Educators worry that career-related education reduces college options; research indicates that many vocational education students get college degrees, and “college and career” programs may prepare students to do even better, as well as get a living wage, attain a viable career, instead of a dead-end jobs.

    Furthermore, revising the contract between employers and education, since the baccalaureate game is not right for all youth, provides incentives for high quality pathways that integrate a full range of academic, technical careers, certificates and work-based training. Work-based training allows employers to discern the soft skills of the youth, such as, good work habits and social competence, non-cognitive behavior –their sociability, discipline, leadership, attendance and punctuality. Well thought-out “hands-on” learning is critical to understand the knowledge behind technology, its application to real-life and work, exposure to and experience in the workplace culture to enhance employability.

    Lastly, from a policy perspective:

    • Policies to improve college readiness do not remove the need to provide information about other pathway/job options that do not require a college degree provide a safety net that makes it less likely that youth will face unrewarding dead end jobs or unemployment.

    Action Step: 1) eliminate and/or modify the college-for-all-policy by provide guidelines and options on school and work, assist youth and parents in making choices among those options, advise students about alternative desirable job options, correct students’ misconceptions about illusory options and help them to understand the steps they can take to improve their educational and career outcomes.
    Action Step: 2) Provide trusted communication channels with employers to ensure curriculum relevance and student skill competency.
    Action Step: 3) Integrate academic preparation, career and technical education (CTE), information, communications and technology (ICT).
    Action Step: 4) Provide joint planning time among academic and vocational teachers to conceptualize real-world curricula and teachable moments that excite and engage youth while increasing the link and understanding between education and career opportunities by teachers, counselors, social workers, healthcare personnel, youth and parents.

  2. I, too, have seen school using vocational classes as a placement for kids who don’t have the grade to get into college. This has basically dumbed down our skilled work force and has made trades less desireable as a career. This is a society image that needs to change. BTW, have you tried to get a quality plumber, carpenter, roofer, etc? If you can get one do you see what they charge? And these folks are running a small busniess. I have seen a few school set a standard of maintaining 3.5 GPA to attend to vocational classes. But there are still a lot of business people who don’t view skilled labor as a valuable asset.

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