Firstly, I believe strongly in relevant curricula delivered to the right students. That does mean a strong academic pathway leading to Russell Group universities. But, also I believe in a curriculum that allows progression for all students no matter what that progression is. To the newer universities, HE colleges, FE Colleges, Sixthforms, Apprenticeships etc etc
Gove is desperate for us to keep believing that we all play on a level playing field, that all students are the same and that academic History is the most important subject that you can learn…well when i say learn i me rote learning obviously. The fact is that most people don’t need a University degree to have a successful life and in fact many degrees are a hindrance to many of the skills that are desperately needed in our economy.
The fact that ‘vocational’ education is looked down upon because all hard working students can be successful in it is the real smoke and mirrors here. It is so easy to damn the schools for putting students through education that suits them rather than whatever the Universities or the Daily Mail rate as valid. Take away the Architects, Doctors, Pharmacists, Dentists, Vets and Lawyers and you are left with a huge field of work that requires people that can learn on the job using vocational skills – computer engineers, physiotherapists, nurses, nutritionists, plumbers (skilled), etc etc. These careers used to be championed by the Polytechnic until the Academic snobbery made them desperate to become Universities.
All of this comes with a axe over the heads of Senior Leadership Teams in difficult schools. Get 35% or get fired. Many of these schools delivering a traditional academic curriculum could outperform FFT-D and still not hit the baseline target. Didn’t Einstein say that doing the same thing year after year and expecing the outcome to be different is the definition of insanity. What did these schools do? We moved the right students onto vocational subjects to allow them more opportunity for success. Whatever you believe about these subjects it has opened up post-16 education to a whole group of people that were excluded under traditional curricula. People don’t bemoan L3 BTEC, so why this argument should be levelled at L2?
Vocational education is supposed to be different. It is our lack of imagination that has to equate them with an ‘academic’ qualification. A BTEC passed at the Diploma level, should just be seen in its own right as a significant achievement, not equalled to 4 GCSEs.
I do know that maintained schools feel hard done by when the Government keep announcing how well Academies are doing in comparison, and while the current desire to make all schools into Academies makes a mockery of the original intention which was to put a stop to the LA ‘sink’ schools. In the main I believe that the original Academies have done that. Taking difficult schools in difficult areas and changed the outcomes for those children.
So want the smoke and mirrors to stop:
1. Get rid of league tables, but compel schools publish key data. E.g publish what % of a cohort studied a fully GCSE pathway, a mixed vocational/GCSE pathway or a mainly vocational pathway and the success within each.
2. Get rid of arbitrary figures for pass rates
3. Allow a level field for achievement across all sectors and career paths – Dr of History = Master Craftsman
4. Stop trying to force students down one route in education that is fixated on universities
5. Recognise that the Russell Group isn’t meant for all
6. Actually come and see what happens in comprehensive schools.
7. Recognise that a knowledge based curricula, with summative assessments actually damage our economy. It equates regurgitation with intelligence. As it will produce students without the skills to use modern technology to solve a problem.
8. Also, recognise that the narrow EngBacc will force schools to narrow the curriculum to allow more time for these subjects. See
9. Celebrate all achievement, academic and vocational etc by revisiting the Tomlison reforms
(part of this blog was first published in Jul 2010, tells you how close Gove is to Labour Education policy)