We are not the only ones

A response to my blog last week about the gap in the middle has made me aware of some interesting developments in the UK. The respondent was a senior member of the staff of Edge Foundation whose tag line is “Champion of technical, practical and vocational learning”.

The Edge Foundation has six key planks in its belief[1]. They want politicians, practitioners and the public to:

  1.        recognise that there are many talents and paths to success;
  2.        ensure the “learning by doing” is valued equally with academic learning;
  3.        provide technical, practical and vocational learning as an integral and valued part of every young person’s education and as a recognized route to success;
  4.        from the age of 14, give young people a choice of learning experiences and pathways based on their motivation, talents, and career aspirations;
  5.        ensure that the technical, practical and vocational education and qualifications offered in schools, FE and HE are high quality and recognized by employers;
  6.        ensure all young people, whatever their different abilities and interests, leave the system with confidence, ambition and the skills to succeed and the skills the economy needs.

Britain, just like the other Anglo-Saxon systems, are appreciating that they got it wrong after the Second World War when they started to systematically remove vocational and technical education from their schooling systems. I recently read an argument that this was partly for reasons of snobbery and a desire to not be like Germany. The irony is that now such countries look at Germany and wonder whether they were right all along that it is we who  might have got it wrong as Germany continues to bring large numbers of young people through its schooling system well qualified and ready for work.

The Chairman of Edge Foundation is Lord Baker of Dorking, better remembered as Kenneth Baker, Sir Keith Joseph’s successor as Secretary for Education in the Thatcher government. This sprightly 80 year old has developed a passion for doing something about the young people being spat out by a schooling system that suits fewer young people while at the same time the country suffers from extreme skill shortages. A familiar story.

The vehicle he has pushed for leading this charge is a new kind of institution – the University Technical College. There are now 17 of these colleges in the UK and all share four key qualities[2].

1.       They aim to provide a high quality technical education involving 40% practical application and a balanced study of subjects that include maths, science, English and a modern language.

 2.       The practical and academic components of the UTC curriculum are developed through active cooperation with local employers and universities.

 3.       They serve children aged from 14 – 19 on the basis that “11 is too young and 16 is too old to specialize”.

 4.       They stretch students by making them work a longer day than the average high school or college from 8.30am to 5.00pm – and through five eight week terms – meaning children study for a 40 hour week rather than a 38 hour week year.

A recent article[3] comments that if the development succeeds “…. it will eliminate the problem of “neets”, youngsters who are not in education, employment or training. Baker says “Every student who leaves a UTC will go into a job, an apprenticeship, a higher apprenticeship, or to university.” The writer muses that all this seems better than “…. the pent-up energy, frustration and rage of those who should have been equipped for good jobs [rather than being] dragooned into classes they hated” that he had witnessed in his own schooling.

We grapple with the same issues in New Zealand and slowly programmes are emerging that are turning the tables of failure over and showing students who otherwise would have failed in the system, that success is within their grasp. The success of what is happening under the Youth Guarantee banner, the MIT Tertiary High School and the preparedness of communities to seek improved outcomes are all signs that we are seeking similar goals to those that Lord Baker of Dorking and Edge Foundation are seeking on the other side of the world. Our focus is greatly on those whose struggle is evident. When we have addressed that we will be able to focus on those who are doing well but would love to be educated in a different way. But, first things first.

Nevertheless, the worm turning as we discover that we are not the only ones.

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