Business brief: Bid to make vocational education more relevant

Vocational courses should be more relevant, says David Vincent

Vocational courses should be more relevant, says David Vincent - Credit: Archant

TIMES change but there always seems to be criticism from employers that students arrive for the first time in the world of work unsuited for the needs of business, says David Vincent.

Employer’s organisations, such as the CBI, have been constant in their criticism over the years that young people have not been adequately prepared to deal with the requirements and even the discipline of the working environment.

There has also been criticism of the level of basic skills that students have when they get that first job.

As a parent, and previously a school governor, it is easy to see that many schools have been firmly focused on achieving high levels of qualifications for their pupils, to set them up for university education.

But it is debatable whether that has been the best option for young people keen to get directly into the world of work, perhaps with on-the-job training or apprenticeships.

Skills like dealing face-to-face with customers, answering the telephone well and taking messages, and working alongside a range of colleagues of different ages and backgrounds often have to be learned... after leaving school.

Now the government has announced a stronger marriage between education and business with a major overhaul of vocational education in schools.

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The government is developing seven new qualifications in two subjects, which are designed to give students the skills and knowledge that employers need, and to prepare them for careers in industry.

There will be four new vocational qualifications in engineering and three more in construction.

The previous Labour government had a similar idea with a range of courses launched in schools in September 2008 including areas such as IT, creative and media and social health in development.

The take-up of these and further courses was not high though the engineering diploma was more popular and was backed by academics and industry leaders.

Chancellor George Osborne announced in November that the Royal Academy of Engineering was working with the Department of Education and employers to redesign the main part of the engineering diploma and turn it into qualifications, each equivalent to one GCSE.

The proporotion of 16 to 19-year-olds taking at least one vocational subject has been rising, from 30% in 2008 to 48% in 2012 which shows an appetite from pupils at least.

Skills minister Matthew Hancock said: “For vocational edcuation to be valued and held in high esteem we must be uncompromising about its quality. Vocational qualifications must be strong.”

Brian Lightman, of the Association of School and College Lecturers, says the changes are welcome and overdue.

“Vocational qualifications must be of high quality, and parents and students want the reassurance that these qualifications wil be a good preparation for a career.

“I hope that our ministers remember that our economy needs skilled people in the creative arts, health and IT, as well as engineers and architects,”

Of coure it is another set of changes that pupils, parents and teachers also have to get used to.

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