Children labelled 'too clever' for vocational education

Schools and families wrongly assume academic routes always lead to greater success and fulfilment than vocational education

05 February 2014 / Be the first to comment

Many young people are being actively discouraged from opting for vocational education – with just over a quarter of parents (27%) judging it to be worthwhile. This is despite evidence that people who choose a practical, hands-on approach to learning are as fulfilled as people who took an academic route.

The new study, commissioned by the Edge Foundation, is based on a survey of over 2000 18-35 year olds, split between those who had opted for a vocational education and those who had taken a wholly academic route.

Whilst nearly two thirds (65%) of the academic group said they felt their school supported their choice, only a third (35%) of the vocational group could say the same. Over a third (36%) of students who pursued a vocational route were advised by school that they would be ‘more successful’ if they chose the academic pathway and almost a quarter (22%) were told that they were ‘too clever’ for vocational education.

Only half (51%) of parents encouraged their child’s choice to pursue vocational qualifications, compared to almost three quarters (74%) who were happy to support their child through an academic route.

But crucially the study reveals that those who pursued vocational paths are as satisfied with their jobs as their peers who pursued academic routes. All those surveyed were asked to rate their current career in relation to factors such as career choice, salary, success, fulfilment and overall job satisfaction. The answers reveal remarkably little difference in satisfaction between people who chose academic and vocational pathways.

Nearly a third (31%) of people who went down an academic route and 35% of vocational learners are not currently working in industries directly leading from these paths. However, more young people change their academic routes because it isn’t ‘right for them’ (32%), compared with just one in five (20%) who take vocational studies.

It seems those that follow an academic path are also more likely to change their mind about their resulting career (20%) compared to only 15% of vocational learners, indicating they are being encouraged down an certain academic route regardless of their specific skills or interests.

Speaking about the research, Jan Hodges OBE, CEO of the Edge Foundation, said: 'Our research clearly shows that both academic and vocational education can lead to successful and fulfilling careers for young people. It is disappointing that so few parents and teachers see vocational education as being worthwhile, when in fact both routes result in similar levels of happiness, job satisfaction and financial gain.

'The stigma attached to vocational learning is old-fashioned and unjust. A skilled workforce is essential to the UK economy and high quality vocational routes need to be available and encouraged.'

Adding to the debate, Chief Executive of City & Guilds, Chris Jones said: 'This research emphasises what we have been saying for some time - that schools need to do a better job at promoting vocational education. With the recent Government investment in Tech Levels, we can't afford for the age-old academic vs vocational debate to persist.

'Neither teachers nor parents alone have the in-depth knowledge to provide the advice young people need on all the different learning pathways. And we also hear of schools 'holding on' to sixth formers to secure funding. This is something we need to tackle for the sake of all young people who are currently thinking about their futures. They must be supported no matter what route they take, and receive the right advice and guidance so they can make a choice that's right for them.'

Calling for excellence in vocational learning, teaching and employment, nominations for the annual VQ Day Awards are now open.

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