Wednesday, April 17, 2024
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At last, a qualification actually worth having


THE educational establishment, backed by governments, never tires of singing its own praises. Exam results are forever improving, teaching is fully imbued with ‘best practice’ political correctness and digital technology saturates our classrooms. What’s not to like? The realities of grade inflation, socio-political brainwashing and mind-changing tech addiction are rarely discussed.  

It is impossible, of course, to cover up systemic failure completely. The OECD’s so-called PISA tests show us running up to three years behind the best education systems around the world. Employers’ organisations have been telling us for a while that 20 per cent of school-leavers lack basic literacy and numeracy skills. Most universities, including Oxbridge, feel it necessary to offer pre-degree remedial courses.

The intrusion of reality into the hubristic, fantasy world of education has just become even more evident. It relates to the crucial, but educationally low-status, issue of what is on offer to 16-to-19-year-olds in terms of vocational and technical qualifications. The government has published a report on what drives schools, colleges and training providers to offer certain qualifications over others.

We are supposed to be reassured by the claim that ‘schools, colleges and training providers take a broad view and consider a range of factors when deciding which qualifications to offer. These can be categorised broadly as: students’ needs; the capacity or facilities of the educational establishment itself; and the needs of employers’.

It now seems that not even the Department for Education can sustain the façade. It has recognised that this training qualifications window-dressing is self-interested and disingenuous. The more punters a college can reel in, the more cash (around £4,000 per head) it gets. The provision of post-GCSE vocational courses has become too much of a money-making racket.

The Daily Telegraph and the Sun have highlighted a few of the courses on offer:

·       chocolate tasting

·       cake decorating

·       single eyelash extension treatments

·       angling skills

·       recognising, putting on and cleaning a saddle

·       safe use of a powered pole pruner

·       independent living

·       problem-solving with numbers up to 10

Gavin Williamson, the education secretary, has decided to pull the plug on more than 5,000 of the 12,000 current courses. He has announced: ‘Removing funding for qualifications that have no or low numbers of enrolments will help make sure students have a clearer choice of the qualifications on offer, and ensure they get the skills they need to progress.’

He did not need to be so defensive and semi-apologetic about doing the right thing! Proof of that is in the response of one leading course provider. The head of City and Guilds told the BBC that dumping courses will be ‘disastrous for social mobility’. What humbug! Amanda Spielman, the Ofsted chief inspector, was closer to the mark when she referred to the ‘false hope’ given to young people by offering courses which lead to no prospect of employment.

September will see the introduction of a new vocational/technical A-Level, to be known as T-Level. This potentially high-quality qualification has long been needed. It should provide a vital alternative to the traditional academic post-16 pathway. In most other developed countries it is already a central part of the education and training system.

The current superiority of academic qualifications over vocational qualifications is unsustainable in a modern economy. If the government can ensure equal value and credibility for technical/vocational courses, without dumbing down, its T-Level initiative may, for once, provide it and the country with an educational winner.

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Chris McGovern
Chris McGovern
Chris McGovern is the Chairman of the Campaign for Real Education. A retired head teacher with 35 years’ teaching experience, Chris is a former advisor to the Policy Unit at 10 Downing Street under two Prime Ministers.

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