Vocational change can't be rushed

23rd March 2007 at 00:00
Hats off to Peter McGowan, who doesn't pull any punches when speaking his mind in his role as vocational skills champion for Wales (page 1). However, a little more patience seems to be needed with the teachers, parents and the rest of Welsh society who appear, in his opinion, not be up to speed with the military march in education.

History can give us a few lessons in this. Sudden revolutionary change often leads to mutiny. Mr McGowan claims our teachers are suffering from "initiative fatigue", and who can blame them? Their bureaucratic nature, coupled with the speed and pace of reforms, has undoubtedly alienated teaching staff at the chalkface. It has put a great strain on heads who are struggling to keep up with the paperwork.

Last week, Estyn found that morale is already low in our schools. The intended feel-good factor of workforce reforms has been watered down by resentment over new teaching and learning responsibilities, the inspection body claims. How, then, can our teaching force unite to deliver revolutionary reforms in 14-19 learning when it is not happy to begin with?

There is also great uncertainty on the horizon. Much hinges on the results of the Welsh Assembly elections in May - even the future of Mr McGowan's part-time post. No one doubts the need for change. It is healthy and can provide new challenges and purpose for many individuals. But it can also backfire if managed wrongly.

Let's hope that vocational education does eventually take off. Certainly, the Welsh baccalaureate is winning over old cynics. It would be great to nurture some fresh replacements for Virgin boss Richard Branson in Wales - young people who have made it big without a university education.

It would also be great if all children hailing from schools in Wales were able to meet the needs of industry. However, we would be foolish to think that deeply entrenched attitudes are going to change overnight. That seldom happens.

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