There is no 'one size fits all' solution when it comes to educating today's young people. Everyone learns in different ways - some by doing, some by listening and reading - and every way contributes to a rounded holistic learning outcome.
Recent education policy has increasingly focused schools and colleges upon academic systems of learning, hard knowledge outcomes linked to measurement, league tables and examination. Exactly why is that? For my part it appears that this focus is because of a political imperative to prove that a particular education policy or funding initiative is working.
Speak to our educators, academic or vocational, and they would rather be focused upon the individual learner, ensuring that each individual achieves their own potential. Perhaps we are seeing some movement in measurement. A recognition that a rounded individual has something more than a set of academic grades to show for their state education. Just this week we heard the Labour Party announce that there should be as many people in apprenticeships as enter university.
It is important that we explode another myth. Vocational learning is not the 'second choice' or for those who 'can't pass exams', it is a different way of growing and developing skills, knowledge and understanding. Some subjects lend themselves far more to this type of learning. Several professions have highly vocational learning pathways. John Merry CBE - Vice Chair of the LGA Children's Board recently made this point powerfully when he asked an audience at the Labour Party Youth Zone if they would be happy having surgery by a consultant who had only trained by studying books - rather than learning their art practically too.
Over the last decade employers have constantly called for stronger soft skills in entrants to employment. Those skills of good team working, strong communication, empathy with customers and so forth are developed through practice, not by reading about them. What is important is that as educators of young people we provide the variety and choice of learning experiences that allow every individual to achieve their potential. Albert Einstein alluded to this point in his famous quote on learning, when he said, "Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid."
At Sports Leaders UK, we know our range of vocational awards and qualifications can bring real change for disillusioned learners switched off by the focus on the academic and examined. But it also appeals to academically orientated learners, because they can acquire skills for life, which enable them to better deploy their knowledge and understanding.
By gaining leadership skills such as confidence, communication and teamwork, learners become more desirable to employers. A recent study by education provider Kaplan suggesting at the point of recruitment, 'being good at communicating, a team player, confident and analytical were all more important than having technical knowledge.'
This is also true for those wishing to attend university, where leadership skills add extra, positive weight to an application for what is a competitive process.
These learners are therefore more prepared for the big, wide world of employment and in many cases, able to adjust to changes and situations in a more constructive way through their 'hands on' experience that can't just be taught from a book.
By offering more vocational learning initiatives we can help young people attain their true ability if they are not academically inclined, enhancing their levels of self-esteem just by focussing on what can be achieved rather than limiting learners by their ability to conform to standard approaches.
Schools and organisations can benefit from vocational learning too, where vocational learning allows once disillusioned learners to become engaged and active, leading to improved behaviour and attainment.
Vocational learning has many benefits. The hands-on approach allows learners to train on the job; those interested in careers in sport for instance, can get work experience in gyms, swimming baths or even with councils, sports clubs and schools. They will stand out at a job interview because they have learnt their trade and gained a qualification in the process.
Vocational learning is wide ranging and inclusive for all abilities, far more so than many academic styles of learning. We need to encourage a culture where vocational and academic qualifications are seen as equal, and learners follow the route most suited to them with pride.