Let’s celebrate vocational success!

I never cease to be surprised at how little most politicians and commentators know about vocational qualifications and their value. There is no shortage of people who will tell us that we need to ‘do something’ about vocational education in this country because it isn’t good enough, and then go on to talk about apprenticeships or training and in many cases to blame unemployment on young people’s alleged ‘lack of skills’.

The fact that large numbers of 16-19 year olds are following demanding full time vocational programmes which lead them to successful university progression or employment doesn’t seem to register. If these qualifications are so poor, how is it that challenging university degree courses are so keen to recruit students who have succeeded on them?

I have been blogging about this for some time now, including ‘Guess what? Vocational students go to university too’ in 2014. I’ve never argued that vocational programmes are perfect and can’t be improved – I think they need a broader general core and I welcome the English and Maths requirement and the Tech-Bacc as steps in the right direction. My main aim has been to show the value of our existing vocational qualifications and to celebrate student achievement and progression.

I have used NewVIc’s progression data as an example because we have a broad cross section of students on both A-level and vocational programmes and very high rates of university progression for both. And, of course, because we’re very proud of all our students’ achievements.

As we celebrate the achievements of our class of 2015, it is important to highlight the progression of both groups of students. So here is the data for our vocational cohort. A similar analysis for 2014 can be found in my post: ‘Vocational education: rejecting the narrative of failure’ and the university destinations of all our leavers are covered in: ‘University progression for the NewVIc class of 2015’ and A-level and combined data will follow shortly.

In 2015, 773 NewVIc students progressed to university – our highest number for many years, this represents a 91% progression rate for all applicants overall – well above the national average.

If we compare the A-level and vocational cohorts, we find that:

  • Over half our university progressors were from vocational courses: 431 out of 773.
  • The proportion of the vocational cohort applying to university is roughly the same as that for the A-level cohort: 89% and 88% respectively.
  • The progression rate of vocational applicants is actually higher than that for A-level students; 93% compared to 90%.
  • Therefore the overall proportion of the vocational cohort progressing to university is higher than that for the A-level cohort: 83% compared to 79%.

Looking at student destinations by vocational course studied at NewVIc:

1. Business, Business & IT and Accounting & Financial Services: 132 students progressing to university.

The highest number (68) progressed to Business, Management, Banking and Finance degrees with a further 35 studying Accountacy, 7 studying Law and 5 studying degrees in Quantity Surveying / Property / Real Estate as well as a range of other degree courses (Business Information Systems, Marketing, Education etc.). By far the most popular universities for this group were: Westminster (38 students) and Greenwich (27 students)

2. Information Technology: 49 students progressing to university

The highest number of these students (21) progressed to Computer Science degree courses or Computer Systems and Networking degree courses (6). A further 6 students are now studying Games Design/Technology degrees and 5 are studying Computing for Business. 3 are studying Criminology and Computer Forensics and 1 is studying Law. The most popular universities for this group were Westminster (10 students), Greenwich (9 students), City (7 students) and Queen Mary University of London (5 students).

3. Sports, Travel and Tourism: 43 students progressing to university

16 Sports students progressed to degree courses in Sports, Physical Education or Coaching as well as Football Studies, Criminology (Policing) and Education studies. The most popular university choices were Middlesex (6 students) and University of East London (5 students).

27 Travel & Tourism students progressed to university, mainly to degree courses in Tourism / Airline and Airport Management / Hospitality / Leisure Management with a few choosing to study IT, Computer Science (2 students) Economics or Modern Languages (1 student each). The most popular universities for this group were West London (10 students), London South Bank (4 students), East London and London Metropolitan (3 students each).

4. Science and Engineering: 98 students progressing to university

45 applied Science students progressed to degree courses in a wide range of different areas including 32 to Biomedical Science and related Human Biology degrees including Radiography, Public Health, Dietetics, Nutrition, Dental technology, Osteopathy, Pharmacology and Paramedic science as well as 8 to Nursing degrees and a mix of unrelated degrees like Economics, Accounting, Criminology, Chinese and Education Studies. The most popular university destinations were Westminster, Middlesex and East London.

25 students progressed from Mechanical Engineering, 18 from Electrical and Electronic Engineering and 10 from Construction. Mechanical engineers are progressing to degrees in Mechanical, Automotive, Aerospace, Petroleum and Civil Engineering. The Electrical Engineers mostly to Electrical or Electronic Engineering degree courses and the Construction students to Civil Engineering, Construction or Project management and Architectural Technology degree courses. The most popular university destinations were Brunel, Kingston, Westminster and City universities.

5. Child Care and Health & Social Care: 48 students progressing to university

19 Child Care (CACHE) students progressed to university, mainly to degree courses in Education Studies, Early Childhood Studies or Education, Culture & Society with a few choosing Sociology, Nursing or Criminology. The most chosen universities were East London, Goldsmiths and South Bank.

29 Health and Social Care students progressed to university onto a wide range of degree courses including: Education or Childhood Studies (12) and Nursing (5) but also Criminology (5), Social Work (3) and Sociology, Bioscience and Public Health. The most chosen universities were East London and Middlesex.

6. Art & Design, Media and Performing Arts: 59 students progressing to university

28 Art and Design students progressed to university, they chose to study degrees in Graphic, Media or Product Design (10), Architecture / built environment (8), Fashion Textiles (8). The most popular university destinations were Ravensbourne, University of the Arts London and East London.

18 Media Production students progressed to university, choosing degree courses in Film and TV studies or production (12), Animation, Media and Society. The most chosen universities were Middlesex, Ravensbourne, University of the Arts London and Northampton.

13 Music and Performing Arts students progressed to university, choosing degree courses in Music Performance or Technology (6), Performing Arts or Drama (4).  These students were evenly spread across a wide range of different universities.

It’s clear that students who studied full-time advanced vocational qualifications at sixth form level form a good proportion of tomorrow’s key professionals across the full range of employment sectors. This is something we should celebrate, not denigrate.

Media students celebrating their success

Presentation Media

About Eddie Playfair

Principal of Newham Sixth Form College (NewVIc) East London. Blogging about education, politics and culture in a personal capacity. I also tweet at @eddieplayfair
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