Independent heads urged to offer vocational courses

The Telegraph, 06.12.15, figures reveal only 16 per cent of independent schools offer vocational courses, HMC member Andrew Fleck, headmaster of leading independent Sedbergh School urges schools to consider a broader educational diet.

“I have never met anyone who disagrees but it appears that the contribution of HMC schools is particularly poor in this regard, with only 44 [out of 276] schools recorded as offering non- A-level vocational programmes.

“We know that our pupils are set to enter a competitive global labour market, but how many of us have really explored what that means?

“Our schools have successfully directed pupils into comfortable middle-class professions accessed through Russell Group universities, but these opportunities are shrinking, and with further stimulus from the rising cost of university education, we know that increasing numbers of pupils will bypass university and enter the labour market direct from school.

“If they are to do so successfully, we must prepare them for it. It is high time we considered a broader educational diet.”

Mr Fleck, whose school offers three vocational courses in business, sports management and agriculture, said he makes sure that “destination universities” recognise these courses.

He highlighted two key challenges schools face to increase the provision of vocational training. He wrote: “As I reflect, there seem to be two impediments to progress in developing vocational education.

"First, as heads and teachers have been successful in academia and we gravitate towards that which we are familiar and comfortable.

“Second, we are afraid that if our schools embrace vocational education we will be perceived to be ‘dumbing down’”.

At Shiplake College in Oxfordshire, 60 per cent of pupils study at least one vocational qualification. At Clayesmore School, in Dorset, and Bede’s Senior School, in East Sussex, that figure stands at nearly 30 per cent.

Earlier this year, the director general of the CBI, John Cridland, said children as young as 14 should be taking up work experience because they are maturing faster.

Mr Cridland said: “The government has focused on academic rigour, which is necessary but not sufficient. Employers like academic rigour but they look for character as well.

“Those aspects – the orphanage in Malawi or charity raising – are just as important as getting the right qualifications.

He went on to say GCSEs should be scrapped to move away from too much emphasis on grades.

But there are those who remain sceptical about private schools taking on the role of providing vocational training.

Martin Doel, chief executive of the Association of Colleges, said: “Schools need to have staff that has worked in the industry. You can’t have the geography teacher who never worked in the tourism industry show up one day and teach about travel.

“This is something that needs to be taken seriously and done well. I can’t see private schools providing courses in plumbing and engineering or brick laying. They would find it very hard.”

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