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    In January, Professor Alison Wolf’s 2011 Review of Vocational Education was in the media spotlight once more following the Department for Education’s response to her findings. The DfE announced that only 120 vocational qualifications will be recognised in School and College Performance Tables for 14- to 16-year-olds. The Department stated that only those qualifications which meet the ‘characteristics of high-quality qualifications’  as set out in the government consultation, will be counted. However, schools remain free to offer any other qualification approved for study by 14-16 year olds.

    Professor Wolf was calling for differentiation between courses because she believes that ‘pretending that all vocational qualifications are equally valuable does not bring them respect’. Despite the headlines, this was not a criticism of vocational education, in fact she wrote in her report that vocational studies are ‘a stimulating and demanding part of the curriculum’. And as Michael Gove wrote in the foreword to the Review of Vocational Education: “.....we know that encouraging genuine, high-quality, vocational education can guarantee access to further and higher education and rewarding employment. The kind of courses which lead to a passionate understanding of, and commitment to, the joy of technical accomplishment are immensely valuable.”

    In the FE and Skills sector we have always recognised that vocational courses are ‘immensely valuable’ – there are are the heart of what further educatiuon and skills have always been about - and so this is something that LSIS celebrates and continues to support across the sector. The value of vocational qualifications was highlighted during the recent annual Apprenticeship Week when BIS reported an increase in apprenticeships of 63.5 per cent on the previous 12 month period. And here at LSIS we demonstrated our support of apprenticeships by confirming we have achieved our goal of having our own workforce of whom 10 per cent are apprentices.

    LSIS will continue to support improvements in vocational teaching and learning qualifications throughout the year. From April we will be supporting the independent Commission on adult education and vocational pedagogy.  As stated in New Challenges, New Chances, the overall purpose of the commission will be to ensure there is a clear sector-owned policy to support outstanding teaching and learning in FE. That’s why its independence is so important. It is also tasked with offering advice on how to make full use of the potential of technology. An important first step for the commission will be to shape its terms of reference, and LSIS - in partnership with the Institute for Learning - is currently gathering  views from teachers, trainers, sector leaders, teacher educators, employers, professional bodies, the research community and Ofsted in order to inform the Commission, as it begins its work.

    In addition, LSIS is establishing a network of expert practitioners in FE in specific vocational fields. To quote New Challenges, New Chances, this is intended to ‘build excellence in dual professionalism in key industry areas, and will also contribute to the expert training for annual UK Skills competitions and international competitions.” Looking forward to 2012, LSIS will continue the drive for excellence in the FE and Skills sector by encouraging the sector to develop innovative, effective, vocational provision.

    Rob Wye is chief executive of the Learning and Skills Improvement Service, which aims to accelerate the drive for excellence in the learning and skills sector

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