Is vocational education in England really ‘inadequate’?

The case for the prosecution:

Hand with pen and check boxes on white background

“Educational provision for the many children who do not succeed at 16 or who would prefer an alternative to higher education, is inadequate at best and non-existent at worst.”

Michael Wilshaw, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector 18th January 2016.

Defence Exhibit 1:

Over a quarter of English students progressing to university have a vocational qualification (26%), this is the highest proportion ever and up from 14% in 2008.

UCAS progression pathways report (2008-2015)

Defence Exhibit 2:

Only 3% of General FE colleges were graded ‘inadequate’ in their most recent inspection.

Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector’s most recent annual report (2015)

Supporting evidence for the defence:

Presented by the sixth largest provider of vocational courses to 16-18 year olds in London and based on a cohort of 590 students completing vocational courses in 2015.

89% of these vocational students applied to university and 93% of those applicants progressed to university including 17 to 8 different Russell group universities.

Vocational students progressed to degree courses in Accounting, Animation, Architecture, Biomedical science, Business, Childhood studies, Chinese, Construction, Computer science, Criminology, Dental technology, Design (games, graphics, media, product), Drama, Economics, Education, Engineering (aeronautical, automotive, civil, electronic, mechanical), Fashion, Film, Finance, Hospitality and Tourism, Law, Marketing, Music, Nursing, Nutrition, Osteopathy, Pharmacology, Public health, Radiography, Social work, Sociology, Sports science, Surveying…and many more.

A significant number of these university progressors (130 in 2014) left school with GCSE grades well below 5 A*-C, started at college on level 2 programmes, retook their GCSE English and/or Maths and progressed on to an Advanced vocational course. They fall into the category Michael Wilshaw has described as “children who do not do well at 16 or…who are not academic”. They are skilled, successful and are now at university.

Taken as a whole, this high rate of progression suggests that these students are well prepared for higher level specialist professional study and will have the skills needed to take their place in the workforce across a wide range of sectors.

The verdict:

Does the evidence suggest that vocational provision is “inadequate at best”?

See also:

Policy Consortium open letter to Michael Wilshaw (January 2016)

Let’s celebrate vocational success! (January 2016)

5 vocational myths to avoid (March 2015)

Vocational education: rejecting the narrative of failure (January 2015)

Guess what? Vocational students go to university too (March 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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