Young people pushed into 'dead end' vocational courses

Janaki Mahadevan
Thursday, March 3, 2011

Many 14- to 16-year-olds are encouraged to undertake vocational courses that lead them to a "dead end", according to Professor Alison Wolf's review of vocational education.

The report concluded that at least a quarter of 16- to 19-year-olds, around 300,000 to 400,000, are on courses that do not lead to higher education or good jobs.

According to Wolf, high-quality apprenticeships are too rare and are increasingly being offered to older people at the expense of teenagers.

Wolf is now calling for the system to become more "honest" so that young people are not pushed to make decisions that could be damaging to their future prospects.

"The system is complex, expensive and counterproductive," Wolf said. "We have had 20 years of micromanagement and mounting bureaucratic costs. The funding and accountability systems create perverse incentives to steer students into inferior courses.

"We have many vocational qualifications that are great and institutions that are providing an excellent education and are heavily oversubscribed. But we also have hundreds of thousands of young people taking qualifications that have little or no value."

Recommendations in the review include an overhaul of the system to simplify the process and remove the incentives that encourage learning providers to enter students for low-quality qualifications.

The review also urges that working towards a C at maths and English GCSE be made compulsory for all 16- to 19-year-olds who have not already achieved this.

Wolf also pointed to countries such as Denmark, France and Germany where 14- to 16-year-olds should spend 80 per cent of their time on a shared academic core of subjects, as a positive example.

Education Secretary Michael Gove said: "The system that we have inherited is very damaging. It is unfair for children and it is harming the economy. Millions of children have been misled into pursuing courses which offer little hope.

"We will reform league tables, the funding system and regulation to give children honest information and access to the right courses. Implementing these reforms will be hard and take a few years but we cannot afford another decade of educational failure."

Gove immediately accepted four of Wolf’s recommendations:

  • To allow qualified further education lecturers to teach in school classrooms on the same basis as qualified school teachers
  • To clarify the rules on allowing industry professionals to teach in schools
  • To allow any vocational qualification offered by a regulated awarding body to be taken by 14- to 19-year-olds
  • To allow established high-quality vocational qualifications that have not been accredited to be offered in schools and colleges in September 2011

    Martin Doel, Association of Colleges chief executive, said: "We particularly welcome Professor Wolf’s recommendation that colleges can play a leading role in vocational education for students from the age of 14 and the recognition that lecturers in colleges have much expertise to offer young people.

    "We also appreciate the importance of English and mathematics in ensuring young people have successful careers and fulfilling lives, and look forward to working with the Department for Education to see how colleges can further contribute to meeting this critical objective."

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