Vocational training for young people should begin in school according to Dr Blain

  • 18 Aug 2014

It is a sad indictment of the UK’s education system that it is not producing the right level of work-ready education/training for young people.
Pledges from Government ministers to restore vocational subjects to the national curriculum have all come to nothing. It could be argued that the best environment to learn and practice skills is a working environment producing real work in real time i.e. productive training, supplemented by part-time technical education.
At a time when the nation is short of skilled workers and employers complain that current school leavers do not have the necessary employable skills, politicians should take a positive decision to restore vocational education into the secondary level curriculum to create a future competent workforce which will fuel and fund it’s own individual aspirations.

Politicians first became interested in vocational training after a series of poor showings by British firms at international exhibitions in the 1860s and 1870s. To rectify this, Junior Technical Schools were introduced in 1913 to be superseded by Secondary Technical Schools in 1944. Lessons were taught/delivered to the highest standard by specialist teachers from various industries. Employers had an input into the course content and respected the outcome. Unfortunately these were relatively few in number and short-lived.
If any new initiative to introduce vocational subjects into the secondary curriculum is to be saved from the fate of its predecessors and not appear divisive, the classification should be universal i.e. O-Levels for academic and vocational subjects, provided that they meet the aspirations of the pupil and satisfy the entry requirement of industry.
We should return to the old paths and to the (suitably amended) vocational studiesof the  O-level syllabi which was then offered by the former Regional Examining Boards. The syllabi of yester year could be suitably amended to form a foundation for the current industrial requirement on which to train the future construction industry work force. One or more technical subjects could be studied alongside the academic so that a pupil would not be categorised at an early age. Perhaps then, and only then, might the years that the locust hath eaten be restored.
Vocational education should be carefully planned and made available to all pupils according to their aspirations, ability and aptitude. Pupils of high academic ability should not be denied opportunity because he/she is considered bright.  I quote a acquaintance who claimed that: “A carpenter and joiner must have the brain of a professor and the back of an ox”. I suggest that this statement, which applies to all craftsmen and operatives, should be the industry’s recruiting slogan and should trumpet the advantages of independence, variety and satisfaction in skilled production.

Vocational subjects could be delivered at secondary level. The perceived advantage of housing vocational courses in comprehensive schools is that every pupil will have sight of what industry, commerce and the caring professions entail and what is on offer as a career – “One seeing is worth one thousand tellings” – unlike former days when the earlier leaving age of 14 or 15 yrs allowed pupils a year or two to try various occupations before the age of 16 years. (The age still favoured by some employers for commencing an apprenticeship). Selecting a career straight from school might be a daunting task for many of today’s pupils. To overcome this, it might be considered advantageous to introduce a period of industrial experience in the workplace, although this might be considered disruptive and costly for employers.
At 13 yrs of age, pupils should, while continuing their general education, be allowed to opt for an academic or vocational bias according to their ability, aspirations and aptitude. The vocational route should provide courses to satisfy professional/technical and craft institutions at a national/regional level.
The ladder of progression to higher academic and professional qualifications should remain. The climb will take longer for those taking the vocational route but they will have the advantage of being able to support themselves financially while on the ladder. Those completing the climb should then know whether or not a carpenter and joiner or any other craftsman/technician/skilled worker must have the brain of a professor and the back of an ox. Whichever, they will certainly have marketable skills.
This is a new tune to and old song, a tune which, if carefully and boldly orchestrated, could provide employers pupils and society with something to sing about. What is the title of the old song and who was the author? Pick up the next edition of ABC D to discover the answer…

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