02 SES 05 B, Vocational Learning and Pedagogy
Over the past 40 years, UK governments of various persuasions have initiated a wide range of policy reforms designed to improve the status and quality of vocational education and training (VET) in the UK. Despite these sustained efforts, in the foreword to Skills for Jobs: Lifelong Learning for Opportunity and Growth white paper (January 2021), the Secretary of State for Education, Gavin Williamson acknowledged that, in contrast to other members of the Organisation for Economic Collaboration and Development (OECD), the United Kingdom (UK) has yet to give Further Education the status it deserves. He goes on to point out that in general, many people and too many employers in the UK, “wrongly believe that studying for a degree at university is the only worthwhile marker of success". Consequently, the white paper commits, Boris Johnson’s Conservative Government to spending £1.5 billion of capital funding to improve the condition of further education (FE) colleges; a further £291 million to support 16-19-year-olds; £375 million to contribute to the delivery of a national Plan for Jobs in 2021-22 and a Lifetime Skills Guarantee, including a Lifelong Loan Entitlement for the equivalent of 4-years post-18 education from 2025. Direct links are made in the white paper between the development of vocational skills and post-COVID and post-BREXIT economic recovery and the introduction of Technical Level (T-Level) qualifications. This is politically positioned as a central strand of the policies outlined in the white paper. T-Levels are two-year programmes of vocational education with a work-based learning (WBL) component of at least 45 days. Of the 24 T-Levels planned, three were introduced in September 2020 across England. These first T-Level pathways were, Design, Survey and Planning for Construction; Digital Production, Design and Development; and Education and Childcare.
The Education and Training Foundation (ETF) in partnership with a national Expert Advisory Group (EAG) supported by networks of employers and industry specialists from across the UK, are responsible to the Department of Education (DfE) for the roll-out of T-Levels across England. This includes materials and resources to support the their implementation. T-Levels aim to provide a technical alternative to what are considered to be their more ‘academic’ counterparts, Advanced Levels (A-Levels), which are routinely accepted across the UK as the ‘gold standard’ of qualifications for 16-19-year-olds. One T-Level is regarded as being equivalent to 3 A-Levels. Offering a mixture of classroom learning, on-the-job’ experience and a work-based-learning (WBL) industry placement, T-Levels aim to provide the knowledge and experience needed enable young people to progress into skilled employment, further study or a higher apprenticeship. However, it is important to note that, a specification for a T-Level course is not a curriculum. It is not even a recipe. At best it is a set of ingredients, a combination of curriculum content, pedagogic principles and processes which if appropriately implemented, could realise policy intentions in practice. Course specifications are of course only implemented and brought to life through imaginative and creative curriculum planning and design on the part of educational practitioners. This inolves them in curriculum design and development and decisons regarding appropriate approaches to teaching, learning and assessment (pedagogy) capable of sparking interest, engagement, cooperation, problem-finding, problem-solving and critique in ways which enable learners to build their confidence, think for themselves and with each other. This paper reports the findings of research funded by ETF with the approval of the National Expert Advisory Group for T-Levels. It pilots a number of research-informed pedagogical principles which aim to inform the implementation of T-Levels and emphasise enduring values in vocational education and lifelong learning as well as supporting social cohesion and inclusion more widely.
The aim of this research is to identify, pilot and refine pedagogical principles which aim to contribute to programmes of professional learning developed by the ETF Teaching Learning and Development Programme (TLDP) designed to support institutions and teachers in the implementation of T-Levels. This research is a study of the lived experiences of practitioners in the vocational education sector in relation to the implementation of T-Levels. It is also a study of the experiences of their students as they pursue T-Level qualifications.The research adopts a constructivist ontological position which starts from the assumption that the form and nature of the social world is neither objective nor singular but that multiple realties are constructed by individuals. The epistemological position employed in the study draws upon accounts of lived human experience and observations of the world to provide indirect indications of the social phenomena involved. From this position, it is accepted that knowledge is developed through a process of interpretation and shared meaning-making. The methodology employed in the research is inductive in that it moves from particular cases and then proceeds incrementally towards tentative inferences regarding what may be happening more widely. The research population includes tutor volunteers from each pathway delivering T-Levels in Design, Surveying and Planning for Construction; Digital Production, Design and Development and Education and Childcare. Tutor participants in the study consist of up of 12 tutors who will present accounts of their experiences of implementing T-Levels as well as their students' experiences of teaching, learning and assessment as they pursue T-Level qualifications. Research methods include, documentary analysis; literature review; field notes; interviews and focus groups; practitioner and student accounts of experience; analysis of critical incidents and illustrative case studies. The works of Carr (1987,1995), Dewey (1916,1933), Dunne (1993, 2005) Eraut (2004) and Sennett (2008, 2012) are drawn upon to explore the nature of a practice, what makes a practice educational and how a practice improves. The relationship between theory and practice and the role of practitioner-research in that relationship are also discussed.
As this research is work-in-progress it is not possible at this stage to identify findings or conclusions. However, it is hoped that this study may offer helpful insights into challenges and possibilities in making T-Levels good in practice in the three pathways of Survey and Planning for Construction; Digital Production, Design and Development; Education and Childcare and perhaps across T-Levels more widely.
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