Vocational qualifications need their moment of parity

By Tami McCrone

Wednesday 4 June 2014

The annual celebration of vocational achievements, in the shape of VQ Day every 4 June, is something I wholeheartedly applaud. This brainchild of the Edge Foundation encapsulates the important argument that:

“Vocational qualifications have never been more important to the economy and the individual; they deliver the trained, talented employees businesses are crying out for and ensure young people have the skills needed to succeed in education and work.”

Further support for this idea has emerged this week from Dame Asha Khemka (Principal and Chief Executive of West Nottinghamshire College, and chair of the Association of Colleges in India). In an article in the Guardian she highlights the fact that India wants to train half a billion people in vocational skills by 2015, and states her belief that their entrepreneurial spirit and ‘attitude’ will ensure they succeed. She acknowledges that there will be challenges: “Middle-class Indians want a formal, academic education for their children; winning the hearts and minds for vocational education is one of the biggest battles that this new India will have to win.”

This same challenge – winning the hearts and minds of young people, parents, teachers and others in the education system over to the merits of vocational education – is still, in my view, one of the biggest barriers to the uptake of these qualifications here in England. But in order to achieve the elusive parity of esteem between academic and vocational qualifications that is exactly what we will have to do – and the right attitude is what is needed. An attitude that recognises that we are all different and young people learn in different ways, are interested in different things, want to have different careers and that all learning is positive. After all, would you want an academic educational researcher mending your boiler?

As parents, we all want our children to be healthy, happy and preferably, at some point, contribute positively to society. If studying for an academic qualification does not engage and enthuse them, why advise it? Surely the key is to help your child to understand their interests and aspirations and support them to achieve the appropriate qualifications to achieve them – whether they be academic or vocational.

I have previously argued that well-informed parents are key to banishing the vocational versus academic divide. However, I also believe that all those working in the education system – primary and secondary teachers, lecturers in colleges, senior leaders in schools and colleges, careers advisers – and employers should embrace vocational qualifications and celebrate that for some young people they are a lifeline to a satisfying career!