'Outdated' academic vs vocational dispute must end

23rd April 2010 at 01:00
`Distinct philosophy' needed for 14-19 provision, don says

Wales must move on from the "tired and outdated" academic versus vocational debate and focus on creating a new 14-19 pedagogy, according to a leading academic.

David Egan, professor of education at the University of Wales Institute, Cardiff (UWIC), said that the 14-19 phase needs a distinct philosophy similar to that of the play-led foundation phase for three to seven-year- olds.

Speaking to an audience of academics and practitioners at a major 14-19 conference at UWIC, Professor Egan said Wales deserves a "collective pat on the back" for recent reforms to the sector.

He praised the broader curriculum choices available to students through developments such as the skills-based Welsh Baccalaureate Qualification and the 14-19 learning pathways policy.

But he said the 14-19 curriculum is failing to engage and motivate large numbers of students, and post-16 participation in Wales remains low by UK and European standards.

"We need to move beyond this tired, outdated and turgid debate about the academic and vocational divide," he said.

"We need an educational philosophy for 14-19 education as we have for the foundation phase, and a pedagogy of learning and teaching that's part of that philosophy."

He suggested that the new pedagogy could be driven by teachers specifically trained to teach at secondary level and that the Welsh Bac could replace GCSE, AS and A-level exams.

Professor Egan's comments were backed up by Ephraim Weisstein, an educational reform expert from the US.

Mr Weisstein, who is involved in a research partnership with UWIC, said he was struck by shared themes of the two countries' 14-19 education systems, such as student progression and the academic and vocational debate.

But he said: "That's not only a tired debate, but it's the wrong debate and discussion. These issues of structure are less of a concern. It really should come down to pedagogy; having high standards and a good school structure."

Education minister Leighton Andrews has said that "radical solutions" may have to be put in place to achieve parity of esteem between vocational and academic options.

He suggested that academic courses could be cut in order to expand vocational choice as part of the 14-19 learning pathways.

"We are seeing evidence that people are starting to understand the balance between vocational and academic routes," he said. "Both are important. All learners need to access an appropriate choice at all levels."

An Assembly government spokesman said such a strategic shift would better meet the needs of a greater number of learners and make sure they are well equipped for employment.

The Welsh Bac is set to be rolled out to 50 more schools and colleges from September, bringing the total to 217.

Original paper headline: `Outdated' academic vs vocational dispute must end, urges don

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