Tony Little, who headed the £12,910-a-term boarding school between 2002 and 2015, said: “In my view, things won’t change until it’s an obligation on all schools and all students post-16 to take at least one vocational course. Whoever they are, whatever their aspirations may be.”
For example, he said, a highly academic pupil, studying double maths and physics A levels and planning to apply to top universities, would benefit from taking a vocational course in engineering, problem-solving or design.
Students who take vocational courses, he said, “tend to be more flexible, more able to deal with information in different ways. Even better with deadlines.”
Mr Little was addressing an audience at the UCL Institute of Education. He was taking part in a panel debate on the subject “What if…we really wanted to overcome the academic-vocational divide?” The panel also included former Ofsted chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw.
Mr Little admitted, however, that he had never introduced compulsory post-16 vocational courses at any of the schools that he led, because he feared that university admissions tutors might not respond favourably to applications from these pupils.
“It must come with the re-education of our university admissions tutors,” he said.