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Does vocational education need a haircut?

Spencer Thompson

31 January 2012

Today’s downgrading of many vocational qualifications, removing them from school league tables, should not mask the fact many of them provide real value to students, employers and the wider economy.

The 2011 Wolf Review, to which this announcement responds, highlighted the need to prune the types of vocational courses offered, removing a large number that lack value, and supporting the need for others. It recommended good vocational courses, combined with a mix of core subjects, as a pathway for many students to either work or further study. Today’s announcement to cull some of these courses is the first step towards implementing the review’s proposals.

However, there is a danger that this decision, which is not married to a detailed plan of how to provide better vocational courses to students, may be discrediting some genuinely useful and needed vocational skills provision. Last week’s outcry from major engineering companies over the engineering diploma’s downgrade illustrates how policy may not be on the right track for either businesses or students, and seems to run contrary to the government’s positive actions on ICT skills.

Faced with growing youth unemployment, the UK needs to get much better at providing the right balance of skills, both academic and vocational, to meet the innovation and growth needs of the economy. Part of this mix is ensuring school-leavers study qualifications that enable them to actively engage with the workplace or further study. The Wolf Review has highlighted how reform is needed, and we eagerly anticipate a positive plan from Government as to how they are going to better deliver vocational study.

The Work Foundation will soon be launching a major new consortium on how to tackle Youth Unemployment, with a variety of partner organisations. For more information please contact Paul Sissons.