02 SES 10 B, Transitions in VET: A European Perspective
Transition in education – as highlighted in this year's ECER conference theme - has a very broad definition. Nevertheless, transition from one education phase to another (for example from secondary to higher education) or into the labour market narrows the scope. This paper focuses on the extent to which young people’s transitions from education to higher education, or to the labour market, are served and supported by qualifications in England. While the paper refers to traditional academic and to, what we describe as, ‘strong’ vocational qualifications with clear transition routes, our aim is to reflect on the ‘middling’, or hybrid, routes that often attempt to embrace the features of both academic and vocational qualifications. The question, however, arises: can such all-embracing qualifications be devised? And can a qualification be expected to serve such different purposes and achieve credibility?
England has a long history of education reform for the upper secondary age range (14-18), but it has frequently been characterised by qualification reform rather than located within a broader reform agenda. The central focus of education change has resulted in the development of more qualifications, or a perpetual tinkering with existing ones. In England there is an historically well established academic route that leads to higher education. Similarly, there are some strong vocational qualifications (Stanton, 2006), such as BTEC and City and Guilds qualifications which offer young people opportunities for progression into higher education or into the labour market. While these qualifications send out clear signals of their value and have credibility with employers, or higher education, there are others that fail to do so. These ‘middle’ route qualifications, such as the former General National Vocational Qualification (GNVQ), Applied Vocational Certificate of Education (AVCE), Applied A level, and now Applied General Qualification (currently under development) attempt to straddle both academic and vocational content, often ‘falling between two stools’ because they were/are neither fully academic nor strongly vocational.
Vocational routes in England, for 14-18 year olds, have been regarded by some with suspicion in terms of their credibility, rigour and status. (Wolf, 2011). This has been reinforced by the government's performance tables for schools in terms of qualifications outcomes – using academic qualifications as the main metric. Another pervasive feature in the discussion of qualifications is the fallacy of ‘equivalence’. That is, a deeply entrenched practice of defining the value and currency of vocational qualifications in academic terms when they are qualifications with different purposes, functions and transition routes.
In our paper we reflect on two examples: first the Diploma qualification that was developed and partially introduced, at substantial cost, by the previous Labour Government but was never fully rolled out. The second example is the Applied General qualification, a qualification currently under development as part of the Coalition Government’s proposed 16-18 Study Programmes. This is the latest ’middle track' offer The nomenclature is interesting within the context of our later discussion. The former Diploma and the Applied General Qualification display a number of similarities. Both qualifications are composite qualifications and include similar elements, often under different names. These include, for example, functional skills, principal learning (broadly vocational in orientation), project work and work experience. Both seek (sought) employer and HE endorsement. Our analysis of these two qualifications will include the same themes and will be led by the following questions:
What were these qualification reform policies designed to achieve? How and to what extent do current and recent ‘middle’ track qualifications resemble or differ from one another in terms of their development, content and predicted HE/labour market value? Have they implied different and positive transition routes for young people?
Ertl, H., Stanley, J., Huddleston, P., Stasz, C., Laczik, A. and Hayward, G. (2009), Reviewing Diploma Development: An Evaluation of the Design of Diploma Qualifications, Research Report DCSF-RW080. London: Department for Children, Schools and Families. Stanton, G. (2006) Rhetoric and Reality: Vocational Options and Current Education Policy. Derby: Centre for Guidance Studies, University of Derby. Wolf, A. (2011), Review of Vocational Education - The Wolf Report, DFE-00031-2011.
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