Have I become an education hypocrite? Yes and no

25th May 2018 at 00:00
I’d be ecstatic if my son decided to pursue an FE pathway – but the dearth of information about T levels is troubling, says Sarah Simons

There are two types people who champion the FE sector: those who wholeheartedly believe that vocational education carries equal weight to academic pathways at the age of 16; and those who believe exactly the same thing, except when it comes to their own children.

If you don’t mean what you say, then what you say is nothing more than self-promotional bullshit. Integrity is everything and if your word can’t be taken seriously, then really, what have you got?

My son is in Year 9. He’s doing well at school and, most importantly, he’s really happy. He’s chosen his GCSE subjects and is enjoying them, and he’s really happy with his group of daft mates and great teachers. We’ve always encouraged him to work hard, make an effort and focus on what he loves. We’re open-minded about which path he takes. If his grades continue as they are, he will have all options available to him. He may study at a further education college or specialist vocational provision, or stay at school to do A levels then go to university, or he could seek an apprenticeship. We’ve been clear that we will support whatever future that he is ambitious to pursue.

Will T levels catch on?

So that’s where I stand. I’ve checked my bullshit-ometer and the needle points to full integrity. Or it did … Then something changed: I twigged that the current Year 9 will be the first cohort to be offered T levels. (Hang on, I feel the integrity needle quivering.) I don’t want my kid to be a guinea pig unless he’s going to a rodent-themed fancy-dress party. Who would want their kid to devote two years to a qualification that might not catch on? A qualification that might end up in a sealed wooden crate in the warehouse of forgotten artefacts where they put Indiana Jones’ Ark of the Covenant and the 14-19 Diploma.

Yes, I know that one cohort has to be the first year, but at this point – so near the start date with so little information – I am not filled with confidence. Especially when the government seems less than keen on transparency around their methods, refusing to disclose why some T levels are apprenticeship-only. Although, honestly, the “not in the public interest” rationale gave me cause to guffaw: it’s earn-while-you-learn, not Donald Trump’s “Moscow hotel room” tapes.

So am I being hypocritical? Have I joined the duplicitous ranks of the “other people’s children” guff-dealers? Yes and no. The FE sector continues to change my life for the better and is brimming with devoted staff to whom I would happily trust my son’s future. And if his chosen educational route gives him no option but to take a T level, I will support that. But from the (lack of) information on offer, I won’t be can-canning with glee.

Sarah Simons works in colleges and adult community education in the East Midlands, and is the director of UKFEchat. She tweets @MrsSarahSimons

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