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Vocational dice are loaded

Having recently taken up employment in an 11-16 school after a number of years working in further education, I am appalled by the bias against vocational education that seems to permeate all aspects of secondary-school culture.

Almost without exception pupils are encouraged to pursue "academic" subjects up to and beyond the age of 16. The only exception to this seems to be in the case of learners who exhibit "challenging" behaviour andor those who are deemed incapable of contributing to the school's performance in terms of pupils' attainment of five A*-C GCSE grades.

In my opinion - and I am backed here by the findings of an MPhil thesis which I have almost finished writing - key stage 4 is awash with pupils who are disengaged from learning, not through lack of ability but through lack of interest in the classroom-based paradigm perpetuated by our school system.

These pupils often have an entirely different - and more positive - attitude to work placements and the limited opportunities they get for hands-on learning.

There is also a chronic lack of momentum in work-based initiatives that is exacerbated by business leaders. I am astounded by the lack of involvement in my area (Essex and east London) of business sectors which are faced with dreadful skills shortages but which are still not pushing the system to drive through the changes that could have a huge impact on such problems.

One simple example is the building industry, which has a shortage of the skills required to build the thousands of new homes needed in the South-east.

It would be a reasonably straightforward process to spend a little time in schools to seek out those pupils who persistently under-perform in the current system but who have an interest and potential ability in particular vocational areas.

Surely it would be equally simple to set up a pilot scheme driven by industry to subsidise a group of pre-16 pupils through day release with an FE provider, and to offer high-quality work placements for another day per week.

Perhaps such schemes already exist, although I have seen very little evidence of them.

If anyone out there is interested in setting up such a tripartite pilot scheme, I would love to hear from them.

David Hann

6 Burntwood

Brentwood, Essex

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