THE BLOG
13/11/2013 08:03 GMT | Updated 23/01/2014 18:58 GMT

Vocational Vs. Academic Enters a New Phase With Career Colleges

In October, the former Conservative Education Secretary Lord Baker put forward plans to build 'career colleges'. These will be started by FE Colleges that will granted the right to recruit at 14 from last September and will, aside from what is, unfortunately, called 'core academic work', prepare youngsters for a variety of identified careers from hospitality to health care.

In October, the former Conservative Education Secretary Lord Baker put forward plans to build 'career colleges'. These will be started by FE Colleges that will granted the right to recruit at 14 from last September and will, aside from what is, unfortunately, called 'core academic work', prepare youngsters for a variety of identified careers from hospitality to health care.

Putting aside the availability of convincing evidence that 14 year olds know what they want to do with their working lives, we are still struggling with the unhelpful distinction that has bedevilled learning through my working life: on one hand, academic and on the other, vocational. The first prized, the second seen as second best.

It is high time the debate was recast. For those who like finding out how words and their meanings have been corrupted, a glance back to Plato and, especially, Aristotle is instructive. Both men wrestled with the motive for learning.

Over years, two broad destinations for everyone emerged: those who ruled and talked about doing and those who got their hands dirty and actually did. In the UK, there were grammar schools for the first and secondary moderns for the second.

This division is nicely illustrated by the experiences Paul McCartney and George Harrison had when they attended The Liverpool Institute for Boys, the building that we (The Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts - LIPA) now occupy, a premier grammar school. The music teacher had half the Beatles in his school ... and missed this. Why? Because making music, rather than appreciating music, mainly listening to Beethoven, was not the point of school.

The universities that the boys progressed to (the school wasn't interested in anything else) are not the universities that exist today, pressured as they have been, by successive governments, to contribute to the economy. The Department for Business Innovation and Skills is clear about government's expectations. Aristotle's goal, the pursuit of knowledge on its own, is no longer sufficient.

Grammar schools and secondary moderns became comprehensive schools, while universities and polytechnics became universities. So, names changed, but the confusion between the academic and the vocational not just remained, but increased.

A brief diagnosis, like this one, is all well and good, but there comes a moment when you want your doctor to prescribe a cure.

Here at LIPA we embrace project based learning. We specialise in the performing arts, so this can be one exemplar for other disciplines. For project based learning, there's a reason for doing. For the performing arts, what you are doing will be seen. For aeronautical engineering, the aeroplane has to fly. For us, to achieve the event or performance, there are skills you need to learn which fall outside discipline specific skills. Three are fundamental: how to learn, how to work in a team and to take responsibility for decisions.

Now, if I have a dream, it's that words like academic, vocational, career colleges or technical colleges will lose their meaning and their status. Instead, we focus on the fundamental skill: learning itself. Amongst the attributes we leave to the next generation, a passion of learning and growth, shorn of sterile status debates, is a lifetime gift.

And, back to Paul and George's experience, making and appreciating go hand-in-hand.