From education to employment

Continuing the FE News debate on academic

I would very much welcome a healing of the academic/vocational divide in this country, because I believe that it has bedevilled us for far too long. I can understand why employers complain that they are not getting what they need in terms of skills coming through; clearly if they”re saying that, then that is what matters to them.

The difficulty there is that the teachers in schools and colleges will basically teach to people with specifications laid down by exam boards. So if the employers are unhappy with what examinations and testers are turning out in terms of skills that they need, they really need to engage with the [Qualifications and Curriculum Authority] QCA and the exam boards around that curriculum provision.

Clearly that is what is happening now with the development of the new diplomas.

We should be careful we don”t throw the baby out with the bathwater here. Arthur Miller once said: “Nobody remembers the name of an ancient Greek cobbler, or barrel-maker”. We all know the names of ancient Greek philosophers and playwrights, and actually, the progress of western civilisation depends upon the poets and playwrights. I use poets and playwrights there, just to say that it is higher-level thinking skills; real intellectual penetration; real intellectual creativity that will power civilisation.

However, there is an interesting twist to that, given by a chap called Valeri Legasov, who was called in to help clear up Chernobyl. His view on that was quite interesting. He said the reason why Chernobyl failed was a “technocratic failure”; in other words, he said it was because the people in charge were only skilled technocrats. They knew the skills, but they hadn”t anything beyond that, particularly, they hadn”t any kind of moral awareness ““ that’s the argument he makes.

He continued by saying that a generation before, the scientists would have had an education that was obviously at a very high scientific level, but also, they had contact with great literature, great art and great music. So there is a very interesting view that he puts forward there.

One wouldn”t want to draw too close or too heavy-handed a moral, but he is clearly indicating that if all you have to rely on is skills, you may come to grief, because there are higher-level understandings other than skills, that human beings need. We ought not to be getting too sucked into a view of the world which sees us turning out human beings as if they”re human robots.

We need to keep the skills debate in balance.

Chris Thomson, Principal, Brighton, Hove and Sussex 6th Form.

Tomorrow: Pauline Odulinski, Principal of Aylesbury College, continues the debate exclusively on FE News

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