Vocational education: rejecting the narrative of failure

According to Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector, we have a ‘lamentable record on vocational education’ which is ‘failing to deliver the needs of both young people and society’. Criticism of vocational courses is echoed by many, including the Labour Party in its ‘Issues’ campaign document: ‘there is a lack of high quality vocational education’ and in the ‘One nation economy’ policy statement which says ‘the options available to young people seeking a vocational career are confusing and often poor quality. There is no clear motivational end point.’

There is no shortage of commentators lining up to point out alleged weaknesses in this area. However, we need to question this narrative of vocational failure which seems to be based on the assumption that a stagnant economy or high job vacancy levels are somehow related to shortcomings in our vocational education.

Is there any evidence of success to counter this negativity? In March, I posted here about the 2013 university progression rates for vocational students from my college. In December I posted again here about the combined university progression of our 343 A level students and 364 vocational students across the full range of university courses in 2014.

Here now is a brief summary of the progression of what are now 375 vocational students from 2014 who have progressed to university from our college across a wide range of sectors. Overall, the total number of vocational students progressing is down a little (from 418) but the progression rate of those applying rose in 2014 (from 85% to 88%). The number of vocational students progressing to Russell group universities has also risen (from 13 to 16) demonstrating that this is not an impossible option for vocational students.

Business: Out of 95 students progressing to university from the extended diploma in business, the majority are studying business related degrees, including accounting, finance and management and one doing international management at SOAS. Some students have branched out: Khadija is now studying religion, politics and society at King’s College London, Amina is doing education studies at University College London (Institute of Education), Yasin and Taj are studying economics and law respectively at City University and Melissa is studying psychology at Canterbury Christchurch.

Finance and Accounting: 15 out of 16 students from our specialist finance & accounting pathway progressed to accounting or finance degrees, with one choosing to pursue primary teacher training.

Sport: 28 sports diploma students progressed to degree courses at university in: sports science, coaching, sports therapy, criminology and football studies. We managed to walk the tightrope of north London team rivalries by sending Abdulkadir to London Met to study football and coaching with Arsenal while Michael is studying applied sport and community development with Tottenham Hotspur. We are certain that NewVIc solidarity will overcome all other loyalties.

Travel and tourism 16 diploma students progressed to university; 7 to tourism management degrees, 5 to airline and airport management degrees (a popular choice at West London university) and also degrees in business management, events management, travel and tourism and 1 to applied criminology.

Science: Of the 32 students progressing to university from the Science extended diploma, most are studying science, health or medical science degrees including human biology, pharmacology, physiology, nutrition, podiatry. Two are studying nursing and 2 have progressed to business degrees. Ubokobong is now studying law at Leeds university, proving that a science qualification opens many doors.

Engineering: A total of 39 engineers progressed to university. 27 mechanical engineering students progressed mostly to mechanical engineering or science & engineering courses but also including aviation, automotive, motorsport and civil engineering. Brunel university accounts for no less than 10 of these students – nearly all of whom achieved starred Distinctions across the board: Simonas, Alwi, Razia, Tosin, Humad, Adam, Mahmad, Mannanur, Faisal and Kanat. Together with Ammar and Kirilas from the construction diploma, this is over half of the 23 NewVIc students who progressed to Brunel this year a big boost to team NewVIc at Brunel. A further 5 students from this diploma course are now on the 4-year engineering foundation degree programme at Queen Mary, University of London. 12 electrical and electronic engineering students progressed to university, mostly to electrical and electronic engineering degrees, Christopher progressed to the Sheffield university to study electronic engineering and the list also includes Kelvin who is studying aerospace engineering at Brunel and Paiman who is studying civil engineering at the University of East London.

Construction: 18 students progressed to university from the extended diploma in construction, mostly to civil engineering or architectural technology degrees with 3 of the degree titles including construction management or quantity surveying.

Information Technology: 41 students from both the networking and systems support and general practitioners diploma courses progressed to university, overwhlminglt to computing and computer science degrees including 3 to computer science degree at King’s College London: Preet, Muhammad and Uzaifa and 6 to computer science degrees at Queen Mary, University of London: Nickson, Mohammed, Ali, Jabir, Haseeb and Adnan. Some students branched out and progressed to degrees in accounting, construction management or games development.

Health & Social Care: 19 health & social care diploma students progressed to university, 6 to early childhood studies degrees, 5 to psychology, 1 each to social work, teaching, public health and criminology degrees and 3 to nursing including Hani who is now studying nursing at King’s College London.

Childcare and Education: of the 23 diploma students progressing, most are now studying early-years education, early childhood studies or primary education degrees at university. Two progressed to a psychology degree, one to criminology and one to nursing.

Art & Design: 16 students progressed from the art & design diploma course to a wide range of degrees including architecture, engineering, fashion textiles, games design, graphic design, illustration and 3D animation.

Media production: 18 media extended diploma students progressed to university. Their degree courses include 6 to digital media, 5 to journalism, 4 to film and 2 to games design and 1 to accounting.

Performing Arts: 8 music technologists progressed to university, all to degrees in music technology or production including commercial music. 6 diploma students in performing arts also progressed, 5 to drama or performing arts courses and 1 to study mass communications at Roehampton.

Taken as a whole the achievements of these 375 vocational students are surely an indicator of success. These NewVIc students are impressive but not unique. Like many others across the country they have worked hard in work-related contexts on challenging vocational projects and demonstrated the knowledge and skill required to progress to demanding specialist degree courses which will prepare them for important and rewarding professional careers. These are often the same courses to which their A-level peers progress.

I do not advocate leaving everything as it is. There is certainly more we can do to ensure that practical and applied courses are up-to-date, rigorous and demanding. Ideally they should become part of a single common baccalaureate framework which would value and promote the full range of students’ learning. But while vocational education can certainly be improved, we should reject the narrative of failure and celebrate the substantial contribution of these courses and the students who succeed on them.

Related posts:

Guess what? Vocational students go to university too.

Investing in East London’s future (overall progression of NewVIc students in 2014).

About Eddie Playfair

I am a Senior Policy Manager at the Association of Colleges (AoC) having previously been a college principal for 16 years and a teacher before that. I live in East London and I blog in a personal capacity about education and culture. I also tweet at @eddieplayfair
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8 Responses to Vocational education: rejecting the narrative of failure

  1. Elly Tobin says:

    Great report Eddie and well done on all levels.



  2. nivekd says:

    Simply excellent! Those of us committed to FE and voc ed are whizzed off by politicians who constantly malign the sector never having experienced it (as students or workers) and inspectors who now parrot their master’s/mistress’s voice. How dare they misread their own economic folly so fundamentally. The worst we get is a regular kicking; the best is an occasional nod to Cinderella; generally it’s the old story of neglect/cuts/disparagement/reorganisational chaos. Your case studies are heartening. And, of course, that is not to count the millions who have made a success in so many vocational areas which did not involve a university experience.


  3. Thanks Elly, I’m sure progression from Joseph Chamberlain is equally impressive, if not more so. Best wishes, Eddie


  4. Pingback: OFSTEDagogy and the vocational mind set in schools | Education: the sacred and the profane

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