It is an age old stereotype that vocational learning is a last resort for those who have failed academically, a 'plan b' for when exams go wrong and options are limited. As with all stereotypes it is oversimplified and damaging. Putting people in boxes, labelling them one thing or the other is wrong and calling a child 'too clever' for vocational education is no exception.
And yet that is exactly what is happening in our schools. In research commissioned by independent education charity, the Edge Foundation, last month it was revealed that nearly a quarter of children are being prevented from accessing vocational routes on the basis they are too academic. Perhaps more worrying is that both parents and school were more likely to support a learner's choice when it involved a traditional academic route. We know that parents are the biggest influence when it comes to making decisions around education so to have confirmation that students are being pushed into unsuitable choices because they are deemed too clever for others is disheartening. Regardless of whether this attitude is based on snobbery or ignorance, it is obvious it needs to change.
The stigma attached to vocational education is unjust and old fashioned. The picture of an apprentice with dirty overalls is no longer accurate; not all vocational qualifications (VQs) are about hairdressing and plumbing; you can do an apprenticeship in law, finance or PR; and you are just as likely to find job satisfaction going down a 'non-academic' path as an academic one. 'High quality', 'rigorous', and 'relevant' are the buzzwords surrounding vocational education at the moment and there are many courses that fit this bill. Of course there are those that can be argued do not.
Courses and qualifications that are under-used and low value will no longer attract government funding under a bold new reform plan to simplify and streamline the adult skills system. There are arguments both for and against these reforms, and I won't get into those here, suffice to say that not all VQs should be tarred with the same brush. We often hear the term 'Mickey Mouse qualifications' being bandied about in the press and it is to these generalisations that parents cling. This is why we, and our partners in the vocational world, seek out ways to highlight the benefits of VQs both to the individual and to the economy and VQ Day does just that.
VQ Day is a demonstration and celebration of how individuals from across the UK can 'get the edge' - whether that's in their current or future career or whilst in education. It celebrates those who have achieved success as a result of their VQ and in doing so aims to raise the status of technical, practical and vocational learning.
We are now calling for nominations for the VQ Awards. VQ Day itself is on 4th June with the England award ceremony taking place on the 3rd June in Westminster. Nominations are open for the VQ Learner of the Year (sponsored by OCR) and VQ Employer of the Year (sponsored by City & Guilds), there is also a VQ Newly Qualified FE Teacher of the Year award (sponsored by IfL) in England. We feel it is incredibly important to not only recognise those who achieve vocational success but also, in light of our research, to celebrate those teachers who support them along the way.
Breaking down stereotypes is not easy, if it was they simply wouldn't exist, but we hope that events and campaigns such as VQ Day can continue to chip away at the prejudice so that we can work towards an education system that gives all young people a choice of learning experiences and pathways based on their individual motivation, aspirations and talents.
Jan Hodges OBE is Chief Executive of the Edge Foundation, an independent education foundation, dedicated to raising the status of technical, practical and vocational learning