Apprenticeships should be revived as part of a radical rethink of our education system, according to the Cambridge academic Professor David Hargreaves.
Hands-on training is more cost effective and conducive to learning than classroom teaching, which is often passive, abstract and fragmented, the professor told the Economic and Social Research Council's first social science conference, Future Britain - Revitalising Policy through Research, in London this week. Young people should be diverted away from extended formal education ("learning before doing") and into a practical work environment ("learning in doing"), he argued.
British education has laboured under the fallacy that "the longer one spends in formal education, the more one learns", overlooking the fact that most learning takes place outside schools and colleges.
The professor warned against "widespread and dangerously facile comparisons" with South-east Asia where pupils have overtaken their British counterparts in international league tables. Instead, we should define learning less in terms of knowledge and more in terms of know-how by encouraging learning-specific tasks, he said.
Psychological research shows that just as an infant goes through a cognitive apprenticeship, so older children learn better by watching and imitating. Reinventing apprenticeships - along the lines of those that still exist in the legal and medical professions - could restore confidence in education, he said.
Professor Hargreaves suggests a number of cultural and structural changes necessary to replace our present "schooled society" with a true "learning society": * a smaller education service complemented by more and better informal education; * teachers looking to industry and trade unions for examples of learning styles; * more education by and for ourselves - "Formal education should be turned to when there is no reasonable alternative, not as a matter of first resort"; * jobs with training rather than training for jobs - "diverting people into education to avoid unemployment is short-term expediency", the professor said; * better careers advice to identify people's talents and match them to occupations; * more industry placements for teachers and school placements for business people - introducing school-based initial teacher training on the apprenticeship model is a "major step forward", saidProfessor Hargreaves.