Letter: End the half-hearted tinkering 1

February 22, 2002

The second-class status of vocational education will not be changed by more half-hearted tinkering as recommended in the green paper on 14-19 re-organisation ("New diploma flags up Morris revamp", THES , February 15). The proposals are likely to achieve the opposite of what is intended.

Creating a fast track for non-vocational learners implies an inferior, slow one for all the others. Removing the vocational tag from advanced-level qualifications implies that vocational learning is not valuable. All labels should be removed until there is a clear need for specialisation at higher levels.

The solution lies not in overarching frameworks but in a unified curriculum that celebrates learning of all kinds. I support the vocational renaissance that education secretary Estelle Morris is seeking, but this will not be achieved by attending to the vested interests of university admissions officers or worrying about the needs of a minority of students pursuing distinctions at A level.

Deep-seated problems based on decades of prejudice require radical solutions. Perhaps the Department for Education and Skills should consider the following. First, establish a fully unified curriculum by abolishing all labels and tracks - no more A levels, GCSEs or G/NVQs.

Second, introduce a diploma at ordinary and advanced levels - as suggested by the 1993 National Commission on Education - that incorporates all forms of learning but does not classify these along vocatio-nal/non-vocational lines.

Third, make it standard for most young people, for example, three-quarters of the age group, to follow a vocational, technical or professional app-renticeship at foundation, advanced or higher level.

Fourth, reinstate polytechnics and ensure that they concentrate only on high-level vocational degrees and that they are more generously staffed and funded than the present new universities.

Terry Hyland
Professor in post-compulsory education and training
Bolton Institute

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