Esteem still to be seen

21st August 1998 at 01:00
Both sides of the argument ("Is there a better way than 'A'?", TES, August 7) get it wrong in respect of parity of esteem. This rather tired objective for academic and vocational qualifications, which, some claim, will follow integration of the two qualification streams, has not, as Professor Alan Smithers confirms, been a consequence of creating so-called equivalent paths to French baccalaureat qualifications in the two streams.

Esteem, after all, is a matter of perception. Those doing the esteeming will not be compelled to judge that qualifications are equal because their differences are disguised. Perceptions of value to many who matter such as parents, teachers, employers and students themselves depend on a complex process. Throughout the developed world, academic qualifications are held in higher esteem than vocational qualifications. The so-called exceptions such as law and medicine are esteemed because of perceptions of status and potential earnings.

Parity of esteem is not the issue. What matters is for all qualifications to offer the kind of breadth that will adequately prepare young people for life both in their working and social roles. Professor Smithers is blinded to the value of the recent developments in the vocational curriculum by his only sometimes reasonable condemnation of the early faults in the GNVQ system. Much of this is being addressed, and what will develop is likely to be the most advanced vocational qualification system in the Western world bar none.

The London Institute mafia, in their (unstated) enthusiasm for the baccalaureate agenda, appear to think that a certificate, representing a broad range of study, can be the answer. GNVQs are neither "sufficiently general nor sufficiently vocational". So what happens if you make a qualification either more general or more vocational? I would guess that this might damage esteem.

Professor Michael Young et al argue for gradual evolution. There is no great distance between them and the Government's cautious programme, which is developing A-level modularity, the flexibility of GNVQs and the ability to mix and match between the two.

None of these agendas will lead to parity of esteem in the short term for some key players. However, for some that matter, notably the students, the motivation that well-planned vocational elements can provide and their perceptions of the relevance of these will inevitably increase esteem in the places that matter. That achieved, the esteem of the rest, admissions tutors, professors and all, can follow!

Martin Johnson 20 Parkhurst Road Bexley, Kent

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