Talk about taking one step forward and six steps Baccwards…
All Change Please! can report that the other day Skills and Enterprise Minister Matthew Hancock spent his Half Hour announcing further details of the new TechBacc.
On the one hand was the laudable statement that “From 2015, all practical qualifications for 14- to 16-year-olds will be forced to meet rigorous new standards… to put them on par with academic qualifications”. Now if All Change Please! didn’t know better it might believe the DfE really did know what they’re talking about this time, but as soon as it read “Previously, young people were encouraged to study meaningless qualifications completely unrelated to their lives or the rapidly changing world of work”, its suspicious were quickly aroused. The statement continued:
Previously, the development of practical skills for 14- to 16-year-olds was too narrowly focused on abstract theory. This has changed so that pupils could now:
in woodwork, measure, cut, joint and finish their own piece of furniture – previously they may have just studied the design of a chair
in textiles, students may now design and make an outfit from start to finish using a range of dressmaking or tailoring techniques – previously they may have just analysed the impact of changing technology on dress making
in electronics, use motion detectors, batteries and microprocessors to wire movement-controlled lighting – previously they may have just analysed a light to see how it functions.
Given that vocational courses are generally aimed at those who find abstract theory difficult to grasp and write academic essays about, it seems rather unlikely that any previous vocational qualifications were awarded simply on the basis of studying the design of a chair, analysing the technological history of dress-making, or describing how a light works. And of course designing and making furniture or an outfit from start to finish, or designing with electronics have long been a feature of GCSE D&T courses.
It rather seems that the DfE have followed Michael Gove, slipping down some sort of mysterious worm-hole time-warp and have found themselves stranded in a make-believe wonderland back in the 1950s where youngsters who are good with their hands end up learning a really useful trade that will see themselves through life, help them set up and maintain their nice new council house and have something nice to wear to church on a Sunday. What appears to be on the horizon is a return to woodwork for the boys and dressmaking for the girls, or as it used to be called in the good old 1950s, ‘Homecrafts’. Not that there’s anything wrong with learning these things, it’s just not even going to match up to the future needs of the ‘white heat of technology’ envisaged back in the 1960s. Somehow it sounds more like a preparation for life on benefits or the minimum wage.
And whatever happened to good old ‘social mobility’? Over the last thirty years the whole argument against these sorts of courses has been that they did not contain enough academic content to enable children who used to be called ‘late-developers’ to change their ‘learning pathway’ and gain entry to University. So how is that going to be resolved? Exactly how will the standards be equated with academic qualifications? It all sounds like another case of something the DfE have not thought through properly, but that doesn’t matter provided it gets some positive spin in the Daily Mail.
Meanwhile these days simply having specific ‘practical’ skills, while better than nothing, is not enough to ensure worthwhile 21st century employment. For example, to have any relevance at all, the ‘woodwork’ course will need to offer a much broader based experience, from wood crafts, coppice management and sustainable forestry, through construction carpentry and joinery, to automated wood fabrication techniques and modern engineered cellulose materials derived from wood products. And the content will also need to ensure that students have a wider understanding of the nature of business and the expectations of the workplace.
And anyway, if we’re going to have a TechBacc, isn’t it also time we had an ArtsBacc?
In other news… an article by Liz ‘No support’ Truss Britain-needs-a-revolution-in-the-classroom claimed that teaching was now the preferred option for Oxford graduates. And that’s the problem: academics are simply breeding more academics – education is little more than a self-perpetuating academic renewal device completely unconnected with the real world.
She’s right of course in one respect, Britain does need a revolution in the classroom. Just not the one that she has in mind.
And finally… some breaking news… Apparently:
Alan Milburn, the Government’s social mobility tsar, says that schools are “wasting young talent on an industrial scale” as figures suggest 2,000 bright pupils from poor backgrounds never reach their potential.
Meanwhile yet another spokesperson from the DfE said: “Improving the life chances of children from disadvantaged backgrounds and closing the gap between the rich and the poor is our overriding ambition.”
By ‘potential’ Alan Milburn means attending a leading academic Russell Group University and doubtless ending up with a job serving coffee at Starbucks, or, of course, teaching. As opposed to the quite unthinkable alternative of following a technical or vocational course and setting up a successful business. Provided that is it’s not in woodwork or dressmaking of course.
Image credits: Flickr Philip Howard / Britt-Marie Sohlström