Survey of heads suggests cuts to vocational provision in schools
Cause for alarm?
New research carried out by the IPPR think tank, supported by the Edge Foundation, an independent charity that supports practical, technical and vocational education, shows that 60 per cent of schools are either planning to cut the provision of vocational qualifications or have already done so.
This is despite 85 per cent of school leaders agreeing that vocational qualifications are valuable for their students. The IPPR says that the results of this survey of senior teachers in English state schools suggests that potentially valuable vocational courses are being removed from school curriculums as a result of changes in 2012 that cut 96 per cent of courses from school performance league tables following recommendations in the Wolf report.
This month marks a year since the government announced the removal of the majority of GCSE-equivalent vocational qualifications from the school performance league tables, in response to valid concerns about the rigour and value of some courses.
When interviewed, two thirds (66 per cent) of the senior school leaders whose schools were cutting vocational provisions admitted that the decision had been taken as a result of the changes to the school performance tables. Just 15 per cent said that the reason for reducing the number of vocational courses was that they did not believe that the courses were valuable.
By contrast, four in five (79 per cent) senior teachers interviewed agreed that vocational qualifications provided a firm foundation for school leavers to join the world of work. Not only that, over two thirds (69 per cent) agreed that vocational qualifications were useful not only for those leaving school aged 16 but ‘offer a strong foundation for further study or training’.
Jan Hodges, CEO of the Edge Foundation, which supported the research, said:
“We want high quality vocational qualifications to achieve parity alongside other educational routes for young people. Our concern is that in attempting to guarantee quality the Government has used a sledgehammer to crack the nut. Schools are now being forced to drop valuable technical, practical and work-related courses or risk getting no credit for the provision.”
The IPPR concludes
‘This poll supports what education analysts have known for some time: that head teachers are highly sensitive to what the government measures in its school performance tables. England needs a self-improving school system in which schools are able to offer learning opportunities that they are confident are in the best interests of their young people. This requires a reformed accountability system for schools that creates fewer perverse incentives and a qualifications framework that is less vulnerable to changing political imperatives in Whitehall.’
A Department for Education spokeswoman said: “Previously schools could do well in performance tables by offering poor-value qualifications, 94% of which failed rigorous tests by experts to check their value to pupils’ future education and employment prospects. “We strongly believe that vocational education needs transforming for young people to succeed in today’s job market, which is why we have overhauled the system to recognise only high quality vocational courses that lead directly to a skilled trade or profession.”
Survey of 252 senior teaching leaders in English state schools in England carried out by Opinion Matters between 10th and 21st December, 2012.
Note-The Edge Foundation wants to ensure that “learning by doing” is valued equally with academic learning
Young people still receiving inadequate advice on education choices
Mckinsey have just published an important report ‘Education to Employment’ that seeks to identify why there is such a gap between what businesses and employers want, and need, and what education systems provide. Around the world, governments and businesses face a conundrum: high levels of youth unemployment and a shortage of job seekers with critical skills. How can a country successfully move its young people from education to employment? What are the challenges? Which interventions work? How can these be scaled up? Almost 40 percent of employers say a lack of skills is the main reason for entry-level vacancies. If employers are not confident that the system delivers what they want, young people it appears also lack confidence in the system. Half of youth are not sure that their post -secondary education has improved their chances of finding a job. Youth unemployment rates are unacceptably high as is the number of young people who are not in education, employment or training
It has become received wisdom that businessmen need students with more practical vocational skills. While vocational education appears to be a good solution for policymakers, it has, in fact, low or lesser perceived value among students.
This was an important finding. The research compared student “perceptions of value” between traditional education and vocational education and apprentice programmes. In the research every country values traditional education over vocational education except for Germany.. Germany, of course, is a country regarded as something of a model when it comes to practical skills and vocational programmes, with a myriad of apprentice-based programmes and it has among the lowest youth unemployment rates in Europe.
Unfortunately, even there vocational programmes are not always seen as the answer. 23% of students who attended vocational programmes there felt they attended the wrong institution, and 42% are unsure they took the right programme. This is hardly encouraging.
The report also highlights, more generally, the fact that young people are not getting the advice they need at a crucial time of their lives. The report states ‘they face the daunting task of choosing what to study and where to study it. The evidence is distressing: way too many young people take a wrong turn here. Fewer than half of those surveyed are confident that if they had to do it again, they would study the same subject. That’s a lot of disappointment; it’s also a sign that students don’t have the information they need to make the right choices.’
In short ,Youth are not well informed when making educational and career choices .
The report continues ‘Some 40 percent of youth report that they were not familiar with the market conditions and requirements even for well-known professions such as teachers or doctors. Without this understanding, many students choose courses half blindly, without a vision of whether there will be a demand for their qualifications upon graduation.’ Sounds familiar?
Politicians wax eloquent about social mobility and the importance of making informed choices at critical points in life. Yet a majority of young people do not have access to high quality, independent advice. They might have an ambition, for example, to go to university but then fail to take the qualifications that they need to achieve this, because they know no better aged 13 and there is nobody there to support them. Its not rocket science. Social mobility cant and wont improve if so many young people don’t make the choices that maximise their potential. Until politicians grasp this nettle ,nothing will change.
Labours Techbacc proposals seek to place vocational education centre stage
An important debate is now needed
Remember the Diploma? It was supposed to be the new qualification that helped bridge the yawning divide between academic and vocational qualifications.
The diploma was, in fact, the result of a botched compromise in the wake of the rejected Tomlinson proposals.(Tomlinson envisaged the demise of the A level-which was politically unacceptable at the time) .
The diploma never enjoyed even lukewarm support from most employers, top universities or the independent sector, despite much arm twisting from politicians and officials, who have done so much to undermine the integrity of our qualifications system through their interventions.
Tomlinson envisaged a bona fide inclusive diploma with genuine breadth. What we got instead was neither one thing, nor the other, designed by committee and not demand led. As one prominent Headteacher said, in the early days of the diploma, when, as anticipated by many, few were taking up the qualification, it was ‘ poorly conceived, poorly marketed and poorly implemented’.
Alan Johnson, when he was education secretary, should have set the alarm bells ringing when he said that diplomas were neither vocational nor academic qualifications-without quite getting round to explaining what they actually were or why there was a need for them. Which group of key stakeholders ever got up and said ‘you know, the one thing we really need in our education system right now is a qualification that is neither academic nor vocational’ . In a desperate attempt to breathe life into an unpopular qualification that never had robust legs, politicians then over- sold it claiming that it might become the qualification of choice (Ed Balls) and even replace the A level. In 2009 Ed Balls said “ Diplomas are popular with the people who matter in the job market – the employers,” That was nonsense on stilts at the time and is simply embarrassing now. (It seems that quite a lot of what Balls has said and done in the past has a habit of coming back to bite him).
Nobody doubts the fact that our vocational and practical education is way behind our major competitors and that we have an absurd and debilitating divide between academic and vocational qualifications. But the diploma was an avoidable mistake. It was not demand led, was designed by committee, difficult to implement to a consistent standard across areas, was expensive and never won the confidence of key stakeholders. Politicians and officials do not determine a qualifications worth. The market does that. And the market spoke.
Labours new idea requiring a clear route to a gold standard vocational qualification at 18 called a Technical Baccalaureate deserves a closer look. It seeks to exploit the long standing concerns over how far we are lagging behind in practical learning and how Goves Ebacc proposals have not much to say about vocational learning. Labour wants to ensure that employers are involved in designing the new qualifications which is vital (this was a claim made by the way before Diplomas were introduced-but employer interaction ended up getting a bit lost in translation) Pupils will complete a programme of work experience-again a sound idea- but work experience is worthless unless it is part of a quality assured, structured arrangement and supports the kind of soft non-cognitive skills desired by employers. Those getting the new award would also have to pass English and maths courses which sounds good-but this needs to be pitched right-so as not to put off a large section of pupils-but also to ensure that there is rigour there too.
One big problem, of course, backed by evidence, is that even now there are too few high quality specialist maths teachers around and far too few undergraduates taking STEM subjects. Many more good teachers will be required to satisfy this new demand, as well as high quality technical and vocational teachers- these cannot be conjured up at short notice-some long hard thinking has to go into how to meet this demand.
The Labour proposals, hopefully, will kick start an important debate which is long overdue.
Labour also want the £1bn-a-year government-funded apprenticeships programme to be run by businesses, rather than ministers
Charity that promotes ‘learning by doing’ wants changes to the training and education system
Some concerns that reforms to GCSEs ignores vocational skills
The Edge Foundation, which champions technical, practical and vocational learning, underpinned by the mantra “learn by doing”, launched, in Parliament this week, the publication ‘Six Steps for Change’- six policy steps which aim to raise the status of technical, practical and vocational learning in the UK. The charity reminds us that there are many pathways to success.
Edge wants an education and training system which helps young people find out what they’re good at and what they enjoy doing; rewards and recognises individual success in all its forms, not just in exams; helps people choose paths that support their talents and ambitions; shows how education creates the knowledge, skills and talents needed by the UK economy;
Edge says that ‘with these aims in mind, we want politicians, practitioners and the public to:
recognise that there are many talents and paths to success
ensure that “learning by doing” is valued equally with academic learning
provide technical, practical and vocational learning as an integral and valued part of every young person’s education and as a recognised route to success
from the age of 14, give young people a choice of learning experiences and pathways based on their motivation, talents and career aspirations
ensure that the technical, practical and vocational education and qualifications offered in schools, FE and HE are high quality and recognised by employers
ensure all young people, whatever their different abilities and interests, leave the system with confidence, ambition and the skills to succeed and the skills the economy needs’
Among its practical recommendations -under Step Four… ‘From the age of 14 give young people a choice of learning experiences..’ is that young people should have access to impartial careers information, advice and guidance from the age of 11 so they can make informed choices at 14+’
At the launch there was much praise for John Hayes, the recently reshuffled Skills Minister, but there were also concerns that ,with his departure , the vocational element of learning might not now get the attention it deserved, despite its growing importance.
Hayes was responsible for launching the National Careers Service which covers advice at 18+ ,with other careers advice for young people, now the responsibility of schools, although they have no ring fenced budget for this provision. The new National Careers Service, launched in April 2012, offers a single point of access to online and helpline support but is focused specifically on young adults. There are real concerns that young people, particularly the most disadvantaged, who need face to face professional advice and mentoring will , because of cost considerations, not get access to such advice, undermining the drive for greater social mobility.
Jan Hodges, CEO of the Edge Foundation, said on BBC 2 Newsnight, on 17 September, that she understands the need for GCSE reform but said that the reforms do not go far enough. Pupils need access to vocational options and applied skills with some means of assessment and recognition of their achievements, not just their academic achievements .The proposed EBacc (or is it EBC ?) focuses exclusively on academic subjects. We need a more fundamental debate and discussion about what outcomes we need from our education and assessment systems.In her view, we haven’t, as yet, struck the right balance between academic knowledge and vocational skills. Her message was reiterated by Lord Baker, the former Tory Education Secretary, who introduced GCSEs (although the qualification was conceived by Keith Joseph). Lord Baker, chairman of the Edge Foundation, advocates learning by doing and helped launch, with the late Lord Dearing, University Technical Colleges supported by universities and local employers.
Download the full Six Steps for Change report:
TWIGGs EDGE SPEECH
Wants a great debate on the future of Vocational Education
Likes UTCs and the BTEC
Warns about lack of good Apprenticeships for Young People
Shadow Education Secretary Stephen Twigg in his 2 November lecture praised the Edge Foundation saying that few have done so much to raise the status of technical, practical and vocational education. He praised, in particular, the Foundations role in support of the studio schools movement.
Education is important, he said, for personal development;,for cultural enrichment ,to enable people to be good citizens but it is also ‘an important tool for social justice and social mobility and, of course , it must help people get jobs.
Having delivered an impassioned defence of the last Governments record in education (Twigg had been a schools Minister) he identified three main immediate challenges ahead:
Delivering high status, rigorous pathways in vocational education
Addressing the Literacy and Numeracy levels post 16, which obstruct personal development and act as a barrier to economic progress
And fostering high class and high status institutions- such as the UTCs that are striving to become the exemplar model – in vocational education
On pathways and robustness, Twigg championed the BTEC qualification, as opposed to GNVQ (similar to HE Minister David Willetts on this issue ). He said “ Many in the field tell me that rigorous and work based vocational qualifications- such as the BTEC- motivate young people to stay in education and make progress as a result. Strengthening the evidence base for making this case will be important for Edge and others for the argument to be successful. My instincts are that Edge is right on this but I will make an evidence based judgement on this.”
On apprenticeships he said that according to The Guardian, fewer than 7% of the new places for the Academic Year 2010-11 have gone to 16- 18 year olds. The number of new apprentices under 25 accounted for just 16% of the figures for this year. That’s just 1 in 6 new apprentices at a time when youth unemployment is almost one million. Within the Government’s own defined target sectors, modest increases can be seen in construction, engineering, planning and the built environment. I welcome these increases, while remaining concerned about the lack of apprenticeships for young people. He warned that ‘”Apprenticeships risk becoming a tainted brand unless rigour is applied.” He said “ I want Apprenticeships to be seen as the Gold Standard of post-16 Vocational Education. For parents to be as proud of their child securing a top apprenticeship as they are of their child going to university.”
On the Literacy Challenge Twigg said ‘As Professor Wolf notes ‘English and Maths GCSE (at grades A*-C) are fundamental to young people’s employment and education prospects. Yet less than 50% of students have both at the end of Key Stage 4 (age 15/16); and at age 18 the figure is still below 50%. Only 4% of the cohort achieve this key credential during their 16-18 education.’ So,there should now be a focus on Literacy and Numeracy from the age of 16.
Twigg welcomed the progress on UTCs, an initiative launched by the last Government. He added ‘ I want to make the argument for a Technical Baccalaureate. It cannot be right that where UTCs offer high value qualifications- enabling educational progression and developing a workforce that meets the needs of a new economy, that such qualifications are not recognised.” The Baccalaureate would provide valuable recognition for hands on technical and vocational subjects as well as academic achievement.
“Engaging pathways for all”-2nd Annual Edge Lecture, November 2nd, 2011 Stephen Twigg MP, Shadow Education Secretary
Note:Edge champions technical, practical and vocational learning and seeks to demonstrate how it leads to inventive, rewarding careers. It supports a Technical Baccalaureate. The Edge Foundation is Chaired by Lord Baker who has championed University Technical Colleges.
Note 2. There was an Adjournment debate in the Commons on 2 November on UTCs
Diplomas-the beginning of the end?
Low take up and high costs may seal diplomas fate
Are we seeing the beginning of the end of the diploma, the qualification that appears not to have won the confidence of key stakeholders? One leading Head told me eighteen months ago that the diploma, to his mind, was “poorly conceived, poorly managed and poorly marketed”. Other critics have claimed it is too complex, too expensive, and insufficiently rigorous and not demand led. The last charge, in particular, has a certain resonance. The diploma, which one Secretary of State described as neither an academic nor a vocational qualification, was the result of a compromise rather than any lobbying from employers or admissions tutors. It was decidedly not demand-led. Ruth Kelly the then Education Secretary couldn’t accept the proposals offered by Mike Tomlinson for an overarching post 16 Diploma because Tony Blair wasn’t prepared to dump the A level. So the resulting compromise was the diploma. Neither the best universities, nor employers have taken to the diploma, which has not been helped by overselling by politicians (Ed Balls ,when Education Secretary, predicted it would be ‘the jewel in the crown ‘of our education system) and very low take up at its launch. The Tories when in opposition were very lukewarm about the diploma and their concern was not to pull the rug from under those who had already opted to study it. But they had no great faith in the qualification itself. An Ofsted report in 2009 found that among many of the first cohort of 14 to 19-year-old students taking the diploma there was “little firm evidence of their achievement in functional skills”, including maths, English and IT, inspectors said. Ofsted inspectors were also concerned about the lack of formal assessment of the qualification. “There was little evidence of frequent marking or checking of students’ knowledge and understanding in relation to work they had completed,” the report said.
Only one diploma has really caught the eye. Engineering .But the expense is a big problem. Wellington College ,the £30,000 a year public school ,which has strong brand identity, aimed to launch the Engineering diploma but decided against because it couldn’t raise the funds on a sustainable basis to support its delivery(they were going to offer it to some local state pupils too) . Now it has been revealed, according to a report in the TES last month, that the diploma has cost the taxpayer nearly £20,000 for every pupil completing it. The figure, which does not include teaching costs, is almost twice the amount previously estimated. And the final bill, already hundreds of millions, could be higher still. Professor Alan Smithers from Buckingham University said: “It is a terrible waste. The diploma doesn’t have much recognition or open many doors.” And where is the demand? Much less than half the pupils anticipated have opted for diplomas. Just 9,069 of the diplomas aimed at GCSE-level pupils were completed this year, compared to 5.15 million GCSEs. They are likely to drop further as this year’s courses were begun before the change in government and the launch of its English Baccalaureate – both likely to further damage the diploma.
So far, according to the TES, only 15,063 students have finished a diploma at any level since it was first launched in 2008. In the meantime, at least £295.6 million of Government money has been spent on developing the diploma, funding consortia and training staff to deliver it, and subsidising transport so pupils could reach lessons.
The figure works out at £19,624 per candidate, nearly four times the annual £5,083 average per-pupil school funding in England, and only covers diploma spending until the end of March 2010. The Government thinks that exam boards should be able to continue to offer the diploma if they think there is a market for it. The writing seems to be on the wall for the diploma. That is what happens to qualifications that are introduced without clear evidence of demand. Qualifications designed to impress employers and Higher Education institutions must listen to them and ensure that they are engaged in a meaningful way in their design, in their quality assurance and implementation .This did not happen. Instead we had the classic command and control interventions from Whitehall trying to implement a compromise political ‘solution’ which was never fully backed by stakeholders. We are now seeing the expensive consequences of this folly.
A NEW ALL AGE CAREERS SERVICE?
Look at the small print before rejoicing
The Government intends to create an “all age careers service”. However, as Careers England has pointed out, in the wake of the Education Bills Commons passage (it is now with the Lords ) the process towards achieving the new duty on schools to provide careers advice and guidance and the establishment of the new Careers Service appears deeply flawed. Why? Firstly, as things stand, it is uncertain whether the all age careers service will be a strong strategic public provider of specialist careers support in all localities, or merely a set of contracted operators. Indeed, there are serious concerns that it may only be able to support, on a direct face to face basis, a very limited number of adults. Secondly, the new all age careers service will have no right of access to any school, unless it is invited by the respective school. So, one has to ask, how will a pupil in a school where the careers service is not invited, access it? What seems likely is that the much trumpeted independent professional careers advice available to all pupils 13-16 (why not 16-18, one wonders?) will in practice be limited to little more than website provision.
What we have here is a profound disconnect between the initial rhetoric and the now anticipated outcome. The all age careers service as now envisaged will not, in fact, be resourced to provide face to face careers advice to any young people in education; it will only be enabled to do so if schools decide to buy in its services. With schools budgets under severe pressure and schools setting their own priorities some pupils may, if they are lucky, get access to good professional advice, but others clearly wont. So, a post code lottery will develop. The quality and accessibility of the advice given to our young people will depend on where they live, and more specifically on what school they attend. So much for a ‘national’ careers service! Its branding is misleading in other ways too. The Government intends to raise the age for participation in learning to 18 by 2015, yet concurrently limits our young people’s entitlement to careers guidance to age 16. Given the importance attached to decisions made by young people from 16-18 this flies in the face of common sense. With youth unemployment at record levels and the number of those not in education, employment or training on the rise, it is surely folly on a biblical scale to deny our youth sound professional support and advice, as they seek to embark on their professional lives with so much stacked against them A recent report from the Princes Trust reminded us just how lacking in confidence and self-belief are our poorest children and if you combine this with their low aspirations and no, or little, access to face to face advice and guidance ,you have a recipe surely for social dysfunction. The social and economic costs of such folly will reveal themselves over time. Unless, that is, there is a rethink from the Government during the Lords stages of the Education Bill.
NOTE: Andy Burnham, the Shadow Education Secretary, in a Debate on Vocational Education on 12 May, welcomed the vision of an all-age careers service, but asked where the long-promised transition plan to deliver such a service was . He asked how the Secretary of State will secure the quality of service that Professor Wolf demanded in her paper on Vocational education.. Burnham sought to amend the Education Bill to give young people a guarantee of face-to-face guidance in our schools. Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, quoted Professor Alison Wolf as endorsing ‘a more modern measure enabling skilled careers advisers and “proper, online, updated information” to provide students with the right answers.’ It is still not clear how the ‘skilled’ careers adviser will feature in this new landscape. Goves response appears to give weight to on line information rather than face to face advice. Minister John Hayes had said in the Commons on 11 May that “I find it inconceivable, or at least unlikely, that best practice will not include face-to-face provision”, which has not much helped ease worries about the end of widespread face to face advice.
The Wolf Review on Vocational Education pulls no punches
We must ‘ tell the truth’ to young people
Review reiterates the importance of Information Advice and Guidance
The Wolf Review, published today, which has been broadly welcomed, highlights the importance of good information and guidance for young people-who should it says be told the truth (implying, rather obviously, that, until now, our youth have not been told the truth) :‘ Good information becomes more critical the more important the decisions. For young people, which vocational course, qualification or institution they choose really can be life- determining.’
Wolf continues ‘In recent years, both academic and vocational education in England have been bedevilled by well-meaning attempts to pretend that everything is worth the same as everything else. Students and families all know this is nonsense. But they are not all equally well placed know the likely consequences of particular choices, or which courses and institutions are of high quality. Making that information available to everybody is the government’s responsibility. Too often, it, and its agencies, have failed at this task. At issue here is not simply good general careers guidance and advice to individuals, to which everyone signs up happily. It is also, and fundamentally, about how government oversees and reports on performance.’
In another important passage Wolf says ‘ It is also critically important to ensure that students and their families have as much information as possible with which to assess the quality of provision when choosing specialist courses. This is one aspect of a more general and widely recognised need for good Information, Advice and Guidance, something which is being addressed in a number of ways across all levels of the education system. In the context of this review, I would wish simply to reiterate its importance, as did a very high proportion of submissions, and offer one additional suggestion. A great deal of attention has been focused recently on the need for ‘destination data’, showing where students go when leaving an institution or graduating from a course. Such data are obviously very useful (though also very difficult to collect, other than for students progressing directly to university or another educational institution.) It would also be directly relevant and useful to all potential applicants, to know the entry qualifications and grades of students starting a particular course. This is difficult for transfers or entry into specialist options at age 14, but easy for all post-16 courses, where institutions will have the data in their administrative systems. So, for example, students and their families would be able to see at once whether or not any local A level science students were accepted on the basis of a BTEC or OCR level 2 science qualification; and how many entrants to a selective level 3 craft course (eg electrical, optics) had come from schools rather than college-based level 2.’
This report is one of many that highlight the importance of sound information and professional careers advice to young people to help them choose the best options for them at crucial points in their lives. However, this comes at a time when independent information and professional guidance is in ever decreasing supply, due to a lack of funding and on-going local cuts and when the number of young people not in education, employment or training is at record levels.
Only this week the National Connexions Network (NCN) warned that cuts to Connexions risk doing “irreparable” damage to careers advice services for young people and threaten to increase youth unemployment.
The Education Bill ,currently in the Commons in Committee , includes a new duty on schools to provide professional careers guidance to pupils, but is otherwise vague on detail and says nothing about the promised all age careers service (although Ministers believe that they already have the necessary powers to establish the AACS) . But there is, as yet, no word on how this might work , how it will be funded or how it will be quality assured, which is worrying Heads and governors, as well as Careers advice professionals, who will be expected to deliver the service.
NEW TRIPARTITE VISION FOR EDUCATION
Anthony Seldon calls for academic, technical and vocational schools
Universities should mirror this
Coalition reforms- good on autonomy but will not transform a failing system
Dr Anthony Seldon , Master of Wellington College, has called for a new tripartite system of education to address the systemic educational failure in both our schools and universities.
In the Sir John Cass Foundation lecture, on 8 December , the fourth in the series, titled What schools? Why universities? Seldon argued that we have lost sight of what schools and universities are for. Our schools and universities are overwhelmingly the products of 19th and 20th century thinking, and are poorly configured to face the challenges of the 21st century. “Come Labour, come Conservative, come Coalition, the status quo just trundles on. We have even forgotten to ask such basic questions”, Seldon claimed.
While praising the Coalitions moves to create greater school autonomy, he was scathing about its attitude to sport , music and creativity which are not available or not encouraged in most state school pupils .Though the White Papers proposals on school autonomy are to be welcomed Seldon claimed that its proposals fall far short of delivering the transformational change that is required.
Our schools, he said, are risking becoming like factories, an unthinking process of rote learning, with inanimate students and teachers moving on an assembly line from input to input until spat out at the end of the line clutching a letter containing exam passes in their anaesthetised hands.
His solution to this systemic failure is a tripartite system in schools reflected in turn in how universities are structured and in what they offer.
In the medium to longer term, government should divide schools into three streams at 14, academic, technical and vocational. Each stream should be roughly a third in size. The academic stream would ensure that all pupils who have genuine academic ability and interest could be again stretched at school. The technical stream in the middle would offer a blend of an academic and vocational curriculum. The third element, the vocational stream, would consist of practical-based learning.
Universities would be heavily responsible for overseeing the curriculum in the first stream, the professions in the second stream, and employers in the third stream.
This tripartite system echoes that which was introduced after the Second World War which failed on at least two counts: the technical stream in the middle was never fully funded, and the third stream, called secondary modern, was seen as the dumping zone for children of low ability, as opposed to a flourishing option for those whose gifts were primarily practical and not academic. In this new model exams would be held at 16 and 18. In the academic stream, students at 16 would sit the Middle Years Programme of the International Baccalaureate or MAs, standing for Mid Level Academic subjects, which would replace GCSEs. Each student would sit, on average, ten MAs.
Students in the technical stream would sit a mixture of five MA subjects, consisting of the core of 2 Sciences, Maths, English and a foreign language, as well as five ‘MT’ subjects, standing for Mid Level Technical subjects. The vocational stream would sit five ‘MTs’ and five ‘MVs’, which stand for Mid Level Vocational subjects.
At 18 students in the academic stream would all take four ‘HAs’, i.e. Higher Level Academic Subjects, which would be a reworking of old style academic A-Levels. In addition, they would sit a Theory of Knowledge paper, which would concentrate on critical thinking and philosophy, and would deliver an extended project. As an alternative, students could sit the International Baccalaureate diploma programme, which offers six subjects, a theory of knowledge paper and an extended essay.
Turning to Universities, Seldon said that not only were they under funded but they attempted to be all things to all people, and were the victims of too much government intervention . He said universities needed urgently to clarify what they are doing.
The solution he offers? The sector needs to be split up, to match the tripartite split advocated above for schools. This could entail either entirely separate universities, or three separate strands could be set up in existing universities.
At the apex should be academic universities, which would offer courses in ‘pure’ academic subjects, such as the natural sciences, English, the humanities and social sciences. These would offer world class teaching and world class research. They would emulate Princeton University, arguably the world’s greatest, which has no law or medicine faculty. Melbourne University is divesting itself of its applied departments.
Technical universities are the second strand, with students receiving training in professions such as medicine, engineering, law, dentistry, business, accountancy and marketing. These should be research components within these universities.
Technical universities would also have major graduate schools, as in the United States. Students could study a ‘pure’ subject for three years in an academic university, and then go on and study for an applied postgraduate degree in a technical university. The liberal arts programme at UCL starting in 2012 would be an ideal first degree for students before going on to study for a professional higher degree.
Vocational higher educational institutes should be the third segregated separated strand, offering one, two or even three-year courses for students joining them at a variety of different ages.
What Seldon is calling for is a radical transformation of both the structure of our schools and universities but also what is taught in them and the way pupils and students are examined and tested. The most recent OECD Pisa results have simply reinforced the message that what we have now is systemic failure, he says.
The malaise is so bad , he claims, that a systemic solution is needed, and one that academic standards in schools are, at last, taken seriously, that technical skills are regarded highly, and that young people are given vocational skills. Seldon believes that nothing less than the tripartite division, outlined here, beginning at 14, and advocated by many others including Professor Alan Smithers and Geoff Lucas of HMC, will provide the solutions that Britain needs. He called for an urgent public debate on the future of our education system.
A (WEST POINT) SANDHURST FOR TEACHERS?
US academic claims the education system is not delivering the skills or core competencies that employers want-sounds familiar?
Tony Wagner, the Harvard-based education expert and author of “The Global Achievement Gap,” discovered, having interviewed many top corporate leaders in the States, a profound disconnect between what potential US employers are looking for in young people and what US schools are providing (passive learning environments and uninspired lesson plans that focus on test preparation and reward memorization).
His criticism of the US system will have some resonance here in the UK. Most tests are highly content driven and do not encourage pupils to think about the content. Students are driven to try and learn on the internet what they don’t learn in school and to collaborate and explore for themselves. The system must better harness this resource, the internet. It is striking how much time students spend on the internet and how little schools have done to use it as a tool to help develop important skills.
Innovation has to be the real engine of economic growth in future , Wagner says, but the education system and even the higher education system is not providing creative students with support. To progress and compete in the global economy we need to encourage curiosity, and the education system just doesn’t deliver on this. The creators of Microsoft and Facebook had to leave Harvard to release or indeed to realise their potential . Indeed the system is not teaching or testing for these appropriate skills . Education is little more in the US than an elaborate game of Trivial Pursuit ,he says. It doesn’t help students to apply knowledge to be creative and to problem solve. Tests do not tell us what we really need to know about students.
Wagner has identified three basic skills that students need if they want to thrive in a knowledge economy. First, the ability to apply critical thinking and problem-solving; Secondly ,the ability to communicate effectively; and finally the ability to collaborate.
In fact Wagner listed seven key survival skills, though encompassing the three key pillars above. Although he believes in the importance of content, of more importance is a core set of competencies that are much more relevant to the 21st Century They are: Critical Thinking and Problem Solving; Collaboration across Networks and Leading by Influence; Agility and Adaptability; Initiative and Entrepreneurialism; Effective Oral and Written Communication; Accessing and Analyzing Information; Curiosity and Imagination. These competencies are not tested and assessed within the current education system. Yet schools should be accountable for developing these competencies.
Does he think that the US education system delivers on any of these? Absolutely not. He claims that if you look at the countries leading the pack in the tests that measure these skills (like Finland and Denmark), one thing stands out: they insist that their teachers come from the top one-third of their college graduating classes. As Wagner put it, “They took teaching from an assembly-line job to a knowledge-worker’s job. They have invested massively in how they recruit, train and support teachers, to attract and retain the best.”
Wagner is on the faculty of the Executive Leadership Program for Educators, a joint initiative of Harvard’s Graduate School of Education, Business School, and Kennedy School of Government. However, before Harvard Wagner was a high school teacher for twelve years; a school principal; a university professor in teacher education; co-founder and first executive director of Educators for Social Responsibility; project director for the Public Agenda Foundation in New York; and President and CEO of the Institute for Responsive Education.
Wagner thinks interalia that US educators should create a West Point ( our equivalent is Sandhurst Royal Military Academy ) for teachers: He has said that “We need a new National Education Academy, modelled after our military academies, to raise the status of the profession and to support the R.& D. that is essential for reinventing teaching, learning and assessment in the 21st century.”
Wagner believes we must rethink, reconfigure and reconceptualise the system and properly harness the internet and digital technology. We need to see teachers as coaches and mentors to assist pupils in acquiring these skills and not simply as deliverers of the content of a curriculum to enable pupils to pass tests (many of them multiple choice) that do not test the real skills required by 21 Century employers. Business can do much to help this reconfiguration and the education sector must give Research and Development a much greater priority, similar to the priority afforded to it by leading businesses.
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