Do not hanker after the days of Plato and Aristotle

1st November 1996 at 00:00
Once we all knew the difference between education and training. Training came out of the Department of Employment, and education came out of the Department of Education, later to add "and Science" to its title as though science wasn't education at all.

Do not imagine that confusion first broke out recently, when the two departments married. A more focused confusion seems to me to date from the introduction of the Technical and Vocational Education Initiative. Although the title contains the word "educational" and not the word "training", it was sponsored by the DE and not the DES.

Was this because "vocational" is a training word and not an education word? Or could it be the "technical" which led the DES to sell the pass? Certainly the initiative applied to those in full-time education and led to no specific employment opportunities - equally, it seemed, education didn't want to own it. Yet TVEI has undoubtedly enhanced general education in schools and colleges and introduced them to new methods of delivery and new areas of learning.

Words are powerful things. The confusion between education and training is compounded by the teams of words each can muster on its side. Training has technical, technological, vocational, skills and competence. Education has knowledge, understanding and standards. Trainers need not be teachers though teachers may be trainers. Education is general, training specific. Training is pragmatic and leads to the development of common sense; education is theoretical and leads to wisdom.

In reality of course each encompasses elements of the other. No competence at anything above a purely instinctual level can be gained without some knowledge and some understanding about the application of that knowledge. Electricians without knowledge and understanding quickly become ex-electricians. Equally, most education is aimed at the acquisition of competence. When a teacher has finished the course and passes on to practice papers and examination techniques, education has given way to training for passing the exam.

If teachers and lecturers in further education are all to become qualified, do they need to be trained or educated? Should their assessment contain a terminal examination, showing their knowledge and understanding of the theory of learning and their understanding of different teaching techniques? I am assuming that all those currently employed in FE have the specialist knowledge that they need to become instructors in their chosen area, and that the training (or education) they may need is in the art (or craft) of teaching.

On the other hand, perhaps the assessment should not be theoretical at all, but competence-based. What is this qualification for? Better educated teachers and lecturers? Or is it to ensure that those who have it are competent to pass on what they know to others, and to facilitate the learning of others? If this is the case, they certainly need training rather than education.

Sadly, national vocational qualifications have had a bad press recently. The idea that there should be a lead body to administer teacherlecturer NVQs at level 4 is not popular. But this is no reason to suppose that an education lead body would not learn from the failings of others and indeed come to lead the field.

We should not hanker after the days when I took the Diploma of Education and opted to study Plato and Aristotle. There's a lot to be said for both of them, but it did nothing for my ability to teach anything to anyone, either in the 1950s, or later. I had a physics teacher once who was filled to the brim with knowledge and understanding, but was unable to pass any of it on to me.

If you're really good at teaching you may be promoted out of the classroom. What kind of staff development best prepares you for this? Perhaps you attend a management course, where you're told how to manage. Perhaps you take a diploma or degree in educational management. You'll learn a lot of management theory, and what skills you will need. What you won't have is any assessment of your competence at delegating, negotiating or managing change. You'll be better educated, but will you be trained?

Staff development should help you to do your job better, but some way must be found to train those who seek promotion in the skills they will need. We already demand certain educational levels from those who join colleges. Perhaps we may look forward to the day when those who seek promotion will have to show that they have previously been assured as competent in the skills the job needs. And that will require a new look at how staff development should be delivered.

Anne Smith is principal of John Ruskin College, Croydon

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