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.