Call to revamp 'vocational'

Schools are failing to give pupils the skills employers need, but it is not entirely their fault, according to Wales's vocational champion.

Peter McGowan also believes the term "vocational" needs re-marketing because of its negative connotations.

Mr McGowan was appointed last October by the Assembly government to promote vocational skills and qualifications. He has been visiting schools, colleges, training providers and other organisations to discuss the issues facing the sector.

He told TES Cymru the key issue is the "artificial divide in everybody's minds between what is described as vocational and academic, as if they are completely different things".

"It's both," said the business adviser and former head from Usk, Gwent.

Teachers and doctors are academically-qualified employees who are required to undertake on-the-job training, and need key skills like communication.

"Academic qualifications don't always equate to employability. Someone with three grade-A exams may not be a success," he said.

"Increasingly employers believe that the education system is producing individuals who are qualified but not highly skilled."

However, frequently employers do not know what they want, says Mr McGowan.

And while we need to overcome the vocational-academic divide, schools are constrained by the national curriculum and parental attitudes.

The Welsh baccalaureate is a tremendous initiative, says Mr McGowan. But one of the pilot schools visited had to work hard to persuade parents of its benefits.

"The difficulty was parents who want traditional qualifications, because 'that's what's important'. There is a real difference between having a qualification and having the ability to do something," he said.

He believes the most important skills for employability are empathy and communication.

"Communication is essential to every job - unless you are going to be a security guard sitting on your own all night," he said.

"If we are not addressing the ability to do that, we are failing."

Mr McGowan is due to report his initial findings to education and lifelong learning minister Jane Davidson in the spring.

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