From education to employment

Giving students the best chance to shine

Michael Gove’s recent education reforms seek to address the concern that about 20% of our young people leave school illiterate and innumerate. But instead of ‘dumbing down’ testing and performance measures, we should instead be seeking ways to demonstrate an individual’s qualifications. The occupational landscape is set to be very different by 2030 which means that our assessment landscape needs to support the economy and demonstrate the relevant skills required for a role.

In particular the vocational qualification landscape is changing and our remit is to ensure we continue to recognise people’s skills, knowledge and experience. It is for this compelling reason that I strongly believe in the merits of appropriate recognition of skills. I do not believe that this should always be a formal qualification. What we should be aiming for is high quality appropriate assessment that recognises learning styles, Industry requirements and allows learners to be recognised in some form for their achievements.

It is abundantly clear that people learn in different ways and that the role of vocational training and assessments is gaining greater credibility and traction, alongside more traditional exam-based learning approaches. I believe that for the first time – perhaps driven by the general consensus to deliver greater numbers of apprentice opportunities – we see all the main political parties agreeing that vocational education plays a vital role in helping to prepare the next generation workforce with a range of practical skills and personal attributes that make them attractive to employers.

But the nuances of a strong vocational learning environment have to be recognised.

It is important to acknowledge that not everyone’s skills can always be accurately and fairly qualified by traditional exam-based qualifications. Seeking to implement more exams into the learning process isn’t, in my opinion, the correct way of demonstrating the quality and value of vocational training as much research points to the fact that young people will not always thrive in such an environment.

On occasion and to meet the needs of such students there is the need to create more bespoke vocational-based assessments that recognise potential, support learning growth and deliver confident and skilled young people. OCR has spent many years innovating to develop such assessments and has a strong track record in supporting the educational community in this way.

A prime example is the work currently underway to look at an alternative approach that allows the student to demonstrate achievements but who haven’t engaged in education previously and who may struggle with literacy, numeracy and general communication. This potentially new approach will help them to understand a little better why they are learning and the connection to the world of work. Indeed, one of the true benefits of vocational training is the direct link it delivers for students to the workplace and how it can reinforce the validity of their learning in relation to future employability.

In an ideal world it is employability that is the key issue so that young people are in a position to make an informed and positive contribution and businesses can utilise the skills of confident, motivated individuals. Students require a holistic combination of essential skills (maths and English); enablement so that they better understand why they are learning, and then practical and inspirational educational course support to access the skills, values and characteristics that will ultimately help them in the world of commerce and make them prized assets.

Central to this vital combination for many students is vocational training. If we agree that vocational training is an essential element of producing well rounded, confident students ready to make a contribution to the workplace, then we must be mindful of introducing additional elements (such as more exams) to the vocational learning experience which will, ultimately, dilute what makes it attractive to many students in the first place.

Continuing to ensure that vocational courses meets the requirements and standards sought by potential employers, can help satisfy the Government’s wish for more rigorous scrutiny, delivers a stimulating learning experience for students and strengthens the credibility of vocational training in the eyes of the wider community, has to, and will remain, the prime focus for all stakeholders including OCR.

Charlotte Bosworth is director for skills and employment at OCR, the awarding body

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