There is a difference between vocational options and FE colleges

8th May 2009 at 01:00

Schools may be offering more vocational options and, conversely, further education colleges accepting more school-age pupils, but the courses remain very different beasts, as do the student experiences.

More needs to be done to recognise the divergent experiences offered by the two sectors, according to a report from the Stirling Institute of Education.

Its comparative study of hospitality, mechatronics and life sciences in the college sector, with hospitality, technical studies and biology in secondary schools, finds that, although there are very different cultures in both sectors, they are united by a narrow curriculum focus on assessment and "getting the students through". Nevertheless, in schools, attainment was the key driver; in colleges, it was retention.

In both sectors, teachers, lecturers, students and pupils wanted things to be different. "The teachers would like to have more time to widen the curricula and bring in different types of activities and interaction which they consider to be useful for the teaching and learning of their subject area," the report states.

"The students also expressed a desire to be able to participate in more practical exploratory type exercises and, when the opportunity arose, they were very enthusiastic about the benefits of these types of activities for their learning."

Timetabling was one major difference. Richard Edwards, director of the Stirling Institute, commented: "We found that school teachers were having to rush to try and cover the curriculum within the time available to them. They were not necessarily able to cover what they wanted to do."

The researchers also found a greater-than-expected focus on learning about the subjects than learning to do them, despite their vocational nature.

"Factors impinging on the amount of practical work included time available in class and different teachers' orientations to the subject, assumptions about students and concerns over risk and health and safety legislation," said the report.

"The availability of a range of support staff, and how they engage with the curriculum, can have a large impact on teaching activities and the interactions that occur."

But the physical environment of where teaching took place was an important influence on the curriculum. This, along with timetabling, could have a major impact on how the new curriculum was delivered, Professor Edwards said.

In hospitality, pupils were taught in classrooms based around a set of domestic kitchens, while in colleges the availability of industrial-scale kitchens provided opportunities for a different kind of curriculum.

Cultures of curriculum-making in schools and colleges, by Richard Edwards, Kate Miller and Mark Priestley, Stirling Institute of Education.

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