Tuesday, 31 January 2012

On Soft Courses

Education policy is perhaps the only area of Coalition policy that I don't have a real problem with. I went to secondary school during the Labour years (1998-2003) and noticed as it became more target-driven and, actually, irritating and pointless. I don't know the figures for my school in relation to vocational courses but we were a bit rough and I'm willing to bet people were pushed towards anything that would help the school look better. Consequently, I think that Michael Gove's plan to stop most vocational courses being equated to GCSEs is more than fair. This scheme has bred a culture of 'easy' courses, often making vocational studies look silly along the way. It demeans the truly worthwhile vocational courses that I remember from way back - care of children, care of the elderly and your trades such as electrician, plasterer and plumber. Those are worthy courses which will actually help a pupil in their chosen career. Many of the new ones are little more than pieces of paper.

A quote in this Telegraph article today from Christine Blower, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers irritated me. She says, “It should not be up to the Government to decide which exams are of more merit than others. This is something which should be assessed by major stakeholders such as the teaching profession and awarding bodies." What, you mean it should be assessed by the people who stand to gain from making the teaching and examining professions look better than they actually are? Asking teachers to make a verdict on vocational qualifications is like asking a member of a criminal gang to comment on the activities of the whole. The government may actually be the most objective 'stakeholder' in this situation: they want students to come out with qualifications which will help them get a job. It could be said that the teaching profession and awarding bodies simply want the best for their own members. And who cares about the children?

We cannot carry on congratulating people for failure. Students should be pushed to their limits and, for that matter, teachers and awarding bodies should be too. It's fine and dandy wanting an 'easy' life but then you end up in the situation we're in now - we have a country that's practically useless and we're slipping down international league tables faster than you could imagine. Our education system is the most logical place to start fixing this. You can't help children once they're through it. 


  1. vocational courses matter (The German system was often cited as recognizing this) and whilst the system put in place under labour was not perfect, it was a moving in a direction to value vocational courses. The danger is that far from improving standards the current plan will have the opposite effect, it will alienate many people who could benefit from decent valued courses in vocational subjects, and lead to them underachieving in school.
    The clear benefit was that if they achieved "good English Maths and another then they were OK and could seek employment/further training/ or both in a vocation of their choice far better in my opinion than an ever increasing scrap heap and de skilled Mcjobs

  2. What about vocational courses being measured in a different way to GCSEs then? They aren't equivalents, they're different qualifications. I'm not attacking the 'decent' vocational courses. I just don't see horse and nail care as decent.