Time to end this educational apartheid

26th February 2010 at 00:00
Comment: Alan Thomson

In the often delirious world of education policy, Sir Mike Tomlinson is wont to talk a lot of sense. His recommendations this week (page 1) for a universal teaching qualification and an end to vocational education's second-class status are no exception.

Only by abolishing the absurd distinction between teachers in further education and their counterparts in schools can we hope to end the economically and socially crippling apartheid between academic and vocational education.

The nonsense of the UK's obsession with educational hierarchy was also laid bare this week at the launch of an advertising campaign for apprenticeships starring Marco Pierre White (page 3). Whatever one thinks of celebrity chefs, there is no denying the man's culinary brilliance, having secured three Michelin stars while only 33, and achieving it through a vocational route.

At the same event, Simon Waugh, chief executive of the National Apprenticeship Service, spoke of a woman who won a place at Oxford but did an apprenticeship instead. Aged 24, she earns as much building aircraft as many Oxford professors. Such success is proof that vocational education is no barrier to achievement.

And yet, apart from the forward thinkers - most of them associated with FE and training - the UK continues its obsessive affair with academic education and universities. But the university bubble has burst. Too many students leave owing pound;20,000 for courses that are no passport to a dream career. As public funding dries up, universities will raise tuition fees, thus rationing places.

Businesses are crying out for employees with vocational skills often tailored to their specific needs. FE is addressing this demand while universities stick largely to a provider-led approach.

It is time to end the tyranny of the degree: higher education courses sit on a spectrum of learning and not at its pinnacle.

There is need for educational realignment in the UK and, thanks to the efforts of Sir Mike and others, there are signs that a shift may be under way.

With issues such as this in mind, FE Focus is hosting a pre-election debate on March 9 featuring FE minister Kevin Brennan, Conservative shadow FE minister John Hayes and Liberal Democrat shadow secretary for skills Stephen Williams.

Head to http:FEFocuspreelectiondebate. eventbrite.com now for free tickets.

Alan Thomson, Editor, FE Focus

alan.thomson@tsleducation.com.

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