The disconnect between young people and vocational routes

As long as can be remembered by anyone who takes notice of such things , Post 16 vocational routes have always been perceived by UK students and parents as the B road to travel on, the slow lane to success, the ITV Tactics truck to Gary Neville on Monday Night Football.

After involving myself in recent Twitter exchange about this phenomenon…

I spent a bit of time thinking about why that might be and, I concluded once my head started to hurt, there are lots of answers. But it’s the first of my tweets I wanted to concentrate on here.

From a young person’s standpoint taking the chance to pin your future on a vocational route is pretty scary. There are lots of seemingly unknown parts of the puzzle you have to factor in, it’s a web of maybes and possibles that lead to less certain outcomes like applying for jobs or apprenticeships then the welcoming to all ‘Uni.’ Meanwhile, their peers have chosen four distinct areas of A Level study which are usually recognisable from school subjects, they know what they need to get to be accepted, their parents approve of it and they have the comforting safety blanket of University waiting for them at the other end.

There’s some recent evidence that has captured this nervousness about this lack of clarity. Britain Thinks released “(Ex)Aspiration Nation: A study on the aspirations and expectations of young people and their parents”

and part of the problem is captured in their focus group results. Page 36 shows how they have grouped individuals into either ‘Optimists’ or Pessimists’ dependent on the number of barriers they believe they will have to overcome to achieve success in their future. Just look at how the Pessimists define themselves on page 38, 53% describe themselves as more practical than academic (compared to 39% of Optimists) and 61% didn’t realise the impact their subject choices aged 14 had on their career path (compared to only 28% of Optimists).

This shows that the very students that should be enthused about the wide range of vocational routes on offer to them, aren’t, and they see many more obstacles to overcome because of this preference. Combine this with the general anxiety about the job prospects in the future and you are left with a dispiriting mix. Many of those Pessimists have reached the conclusion that academic learning is not a strength and yet the alternative does not seem to inspire confidence either. It is difficult to unpick causation and correlation here and see how these results feed into the wider societal view of vocational learning but really that doesn’t concern me. What concerns me is how to change this mindset of young people.

We all know fantastic examples of FE College outreach and collaborative working with High Schools but this needs to be improved to show with much more clarity how the courses and qualifications on offer fit with entry to workplace sectors. Taster sessions and VQdays are excellent but more immersion seems to be needed. The introduction of Learning Pathways should increase the amount of employer interaction for learners and help demystify the world of work that become accessible from the FE route, this needs to cascade down to Pre 16 learners. The expectation for the FE sector to work with Local Enterprise Partnerships should encourage more employers to become involved in the sector thus providing clarity on job roles and routes into those roles. And finally, the new rules allowing Colleges to enroll students at 14 should be utilised by outstanding providers to help spread the word through the peer group of the success possible through vocational routes. Liaising and organising this work between schools and FE to promote the very best of vocational learning is another responsibility that the CEIAG leader in schools should embrace.

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