On 16th November, the first-ever Edge Research Conference took place at the NEC in Birmingham, alongside the Skills Show, the UK's biggest skills and careers event.  The conference was a great success, showcasing research into many aspects of technical, practical and vocational education in Britain and around the world. The keynote speech was made by American expert, Professor Nancy Hoffman, based on her book “Schooling in the Workplace: How Six of the World’s Leading Vocational Education Systems Prepare Young People for Jobs and Life”. Seminars were also presented by a range of organisations including AQA, the Education and Employers Taskforce and the University of Warwick.

New research from EdComs was also presented, stating that head teachers fear that vocational qualifications will be squeezed out by league tables. According to EdComs, nearly three quarters (72%) of the head teachers surveyed believe schools will offer fewer vocational courses if they do not contribute to school league tables.

It is clear from these statistics that head teachers value ‘learning by doing’. This is no surprise – vocational options meet the aims, ambitions and talents of very many young people, as part of a broad and balanced curriculum. At the same time, head teachers believe that vocational courses will be at risk if they don’t count in league tables. The Government is expected to publish proposals for reforming league tables shortly and we look forward this. In the light of EdCom’s research, it’s clearly vital that vocational qualifications feature strongly in any future reforms.

Following the Research Conference, the Edge Annual Lecture was also held in conjunction with the Skills Show. Following in the footsteps of Michael Gove (2010) and Stephen Twigg (2011), Sir John Armitt, Chairman of the City and Guilds Institute of London and former chair of the Olympic Delivery Authority, gave an employer’s perspective on vocational education and training.

Sir John said,Putting employers first, or a demand-led system in other words, means giving us the tools to deliver, not tying us up in red tape.  We have to accept that not everyone will always agree but when it comes to the good of this country – and I believe vocational education is for the good of this country – we need a grown up approach, with cross-party support, and where employers really are centre stage.

“We need to listen to employers and young people, and they are telling us to prioritise work experience and a curriculum that enables young people to be ready for both work and further study. I think it is our duty to listen to this message.”

To get involved with the debate and share your views log onto www.edge.co.uk and add your comment.

Jan Hodges is chief executive of Edge, the independent education foundation dedicated to raising the status of technical, practical and vocational learning

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