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Course connections not rightly understood

An artificial gulf between academic and vocational courses continues to hamper young people's educational progress, believes a Glasgow University researcher.

Lesley Doyle has examined the potential benefits of a "symbiotic" relationship between the two by surveying hundreds of teenagers in England. She believes there are similar issues north and south of the border.

Dr Doyle, who spoke at the recent annual conference of the Scottish Educational Research Association, found understanding deepening where students made connections between vocational and academic courses, but these benefits were "unformed and lacking in any consistency because they are serendipitous".

She was alarmed to find that young people struggled to find any connection between the two.

The UK was characterised by a "really terrible deficit approach", in which vocational education is still largely aimed at students who struggle academically, despite the efforts of programmes such as Skills for Work, she said.

In principle, Dr Doyle said, the four capacities of Curriculum for Excellence would help bring the vocational and academic closer together in Scotland. But in practice, even though the picture was better than in England, "I don't think it's a connection that's being made."

Vocational courses were often sold as being "nothing like English or history", a counterproductive tactic that left pupils "very confused", for example, about links between standard maths classes and maths in motor mechanics.

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