Not long ago I visited my old secondary school, and was struck by how much it had changed and improved since I was there.
Yet I was most struck by its change of name from technical high school to grammar school.
Odd, because it had always been a grammar school (it is in part of the country that still has the 11-plus) but back then it didn’t use the name.
It troubles me that a school should conceal its roots in technical education in favour of a more academic label, but my old school is not alone. There continues to be a debate around the value of vocational education in our system versus a more traditional academic education. Should young people be learning how to understand Latin or how to write a business plan?
To me, it is clear that what is needed is a proper balance in our colleges, schools and universities between young people gaining academic knowledge and practical skills. I have felt for a long time, since well before the Wolf Report, that there is a real need for an evidence-based debate around vocational education.
First Annual Results Published This Year
To that end, we at Pearson have made the decision to publish a set of national results for students studying BTECs in schools and colleges for the first time this year. BTEC results are given out to college and school students on a rolling basis as they complete their qualifications and this will not change, but we will be publishing statistics that demonstrate at what level and in which subjects BTECs are studied, and by whom.
BTEC Results Day will be on 7th July and we will be publishing the data annually from now on, as we do with GCSEs and A-Levels. I hope that by being much more open and transparent with this data, we will encourage a mature and informed discussion in our colleges, schools and in policy circles about vocational qualifications. We know it is increasingly important that colleges can access the best possible information and evidence about the value of the courses you offer, and I hope this will help Pearson to play our part.
Vocational excellence should be celebrated in the same way that we celebrate academic achievement
Because we believe that vocational excellence should be celebrated in the same way that we celebrate academic achievement, Pearson will also be hosting the inaugural National BTEC Awards on the same day. We have asked lecturers to nominate their outstanding students as well as asking students to nominate their BTEC lecturers and teachers. We have received over 450 truly inspiring nominations, and I am looking forward to a great event celebrating their successes.
Many people in further education tell me how important it is that we put the age-old academic-vocational class divide behind us.
As Matthew Crawford writes in his excellent book “The Case for working with Your Hands“, it is essential that young people gain both a high level of knowledge but also the skills to apply that knowledge. As Crawford succintly suggests, the UK needs to strike the right balance between “knowing how” and “knowing that.”
As vocational education once more evolves with the times in this country, I think it’s right that we pause and take a step back to appreciate the lecturers, teachers and young people who have achieved that balance on 7th July.
Rod Bristow is president of education giant Pearson