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Challenges of Vocational Education in the English Education System

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Education
Wordcount: 3692 words Published: 8th Feb 2020

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Critically evaluate, drawing from wide reading and research, why vocational education has been undervalued in the English education system.


Vocational education is a specific system of education that offers ‘practical experience in a particular occupational field, as agriculture, home economics or industry’ (www.dictionary.com, 2019) Charles Allen Prosser was the founder of Vocational Education in the United States and the originator of the Smith-Hughes Act. The Smith- Hughes Act became the first law to authorise national support and funding for vocational education as adequate training for precise and certain jobs that wouldn’t need a degree in order specialise in their field of work, such as ‘mechanics, factory workers, hairdressers or childcare.’ Marxists view of vocational education largely as a second-rate education from those from working-class backgrounds, concerned with producing passive and traditional workers to support a profit making capitalist society, although the middle-class, are expected to have a more educational experience leading to rewarding jobs and positions of dominance and influence in society. (Marxists)


Historically, vocational education was not primarily part of public education. In the early 1800’s, public schools were for the elite and privileged individuals of society. In England 1963, the Newsroom Report was announced. (Gillard, 2019) It advocated a work-related curriculum for 14-15 year olds of ‘average and below ability’ to take the vocational education path way. In 1983, the Technical and Vocational Education Initiative (TVEI) presented work experience, Information Technology (IT) in learning, Records of Achievement and careers advice. (Gillard, 2019)

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In 1996, the Dearing Report argued for main qualification structure with mutual content and assessment to achieve academic or vocational equality. After that, the Tomlinson Report was announced in 2004 that suggested common diploma for parity and the position of A-levels was challenged, debated and questioned. (Gillard, 2019) A year later the 14-19 White Paper was released in 2005, this initiated vocational positions of learning. In 2006, The Leith Review of Skills , created the argument for growth in levels of achievement in the skills sector to compete globally. (Gillard, 2019)

In 2009, the Nuffield Report suggests a way to unite diverse methods and systems of learning. In recent years in 2011, the Wolf Review made commendations in relation to basic skills. (Gillard, 2019)

Vocational Education has been undervalued in the English Education system from the time when the publications of the 1944 Education Act, when the recommended technical schools were not established on the scale that it was originally imagined, ‘successive policy initiatives have never been more than partially effective.’ (Educationengland.org.uk, 2019) Vocational education for young people has often failed to expertise the confidence and the assurance of ‘employers, higher education and the general public.’ (Educationengland.org.uk, 2019)

Within the English Education system, it has been found that there is a lack of diversity as job-specific courses if a student is confident that they want to go down the path of a hairstylist, however, in the future once they have obtained that specific training and qualification, they won’t have any other training to fall back on. Unlike a University or a college, where students normally take a combination of options and courses on wide-ranging subjects, vocational schools an exceptionally fixated and focused. (Theclassroom.com, 2019)

In relation to profit, private intuitions typically are for-profit, with higher tuition and fees than some universities. This can lead students in debt, which is compounded by the fact that many vocational jobs are on the lower end of the pay scale. Society also views that for-profit schools are not as skilled in the area of vocational education as other intuitions, which can become a problem for graduates. (Theclassroom.com, 2019)

Disapproval of the ‘English model’ of vocational education and training, are concentrated and focused around educational and training delivery at the lower levels of what means to be ‘vocational’. Loo, S. and Jameson, J. (2017). Vocationalism in further and higher education. London: Routledge. The English Education system in relation to vocational education has low-levels of skill centred vocational provision and is detached with higher professional success. Brockman et al stated that ‘in England, there has been a trend towards narrowing down of ‘skills’ and further weakening of the knowledge base.’ The ‘English model’ of VET has sustained to focus on a ‘limited, utilitarian notion’ of skilled employability, rather than on the learning of wider occupationally related knowledge. (Loo and Jameson, 2017)

Birdwell et al (2011) identified that secondary schools in England and Wales regularly abandon students with vocational ambitions and goals, and concentrate on cleverer students envisioned to go on to higher education. Birdwell also believed that schools have been unsuccessful in supporting students to ‘prepare for the world of work, offering them little careers advice or help in searching for jobs that would suit them.’ (Politybooks.com, 2019)


David Snedden advocated a vocational training model that responded directly to a particular ‘labor force that needs acknowledged by industry.’ In his system, vocational education would be structures to direct non-academic students into required labor force roles for which they were deemed best suited. According to Snedden, the main determination and aim for vocational education was meeting labor force needs and arranging students with expected inadequate intellectual capacitates for instant occupation in the industry.

John Dewey’s writings on vocational education began in 1901 and continued until 1944. (Johndeweysociety.org, 2019) Dewey was the furthermost outspoken rival of Sneddon’s work and believed that vocational education should be involved as part of a broad curriculum to support and aid students to advance a higher range of personal abilities that increases, rather than reducing students future occupation decisions and opportunities in the vocational sector.

International comparisons

In relation to international comparisons, Austria, Germany, Switzerland are all similar in relation to vocational education and training. All three countries are part of the ‘collective skills system cluster’ and are well-known and celebrated for their wide-ranging dual apprenticeships training systems at upper-secondary level. (Graf, 2013) The Duel Training System (DTS) is a process of training which combines theoretical and practical training. It is called ‘dual’ because the training happens in two settings – the school and workplace.


In Germany, the dual VET’s two sections are: classroom study in focussed and specific trade schools and managed by a supervised on-the-job experience. There are lot of opportunities for on-the-job training and work experience. Apprenticeships is a practise in co-production between government, vocational schooling, employers and trade union. (Clean Energy Wire, 2019) This system belongs to its investors, not to the government. The German VET system, also combines a supportive institutional organisation. One section is the chambers of commerce and handicrafts, which is compulsory for firms; and another is the recognised and effectively resourced federal vocational education and training establishment. (Bertelsmann-stiftung.de, 2019)

German apprenticeships is employer managed, this is one key difference between the German and English’s vocational education systems. The German firms or employer organisations undertake an immense substance of ‘on-the-job training,’ and firms have the obligation to have an experienced and qualified trainer, the trainer also had to have been permitted and qualified as a trainer by the Local Chamber of Commerce.

On the other hand, in England, employers acquire the funding from the state, it has been known that due to this, numerous companies and business have not paid anything for apprentices beyond the apprentices wages. In Germany, the only government funding and support is for the off-the-job element of training. For the rest of the training, the employers pay. (FE Week, 2019)


Switzerland is one of several countries in Europe with a dual vocational and training system in which students combine learning in schools with learning in a workplace setting. Switzerland is one of the few countries in the world where vocational education and training (VET) is thought to have equal esteem to academic education, this is known as ‘parity of esteem’ meaning that it will assist the same purpose of qualifying students to employment or to higher education just as the typical or academic qualification will do. Meaning that both vocational training and academic education have equal status. However, vocational education within the English education system is absent in this particular area, due to continuous procedure and policy alteration, a lack of long term concept with the vocational system, unsatisfactory funding (due to funding cuts to further education in 2010).

The Switzerland vocational education training system allows young people to enter into labor market and guarantees that there are sufficient qualified workers and managers in the future. (Eda.admin.ch, 2019) Similarly, Switzerland use the same method and scheme as Germany in relation to dual apprenticeships. (Ncee.org, 2019)

The system works by students taking part in practical training (apprenticeship) on three to four days at a training company which is accompanied by theoretical classes (vocational and general subjects) on one to two days in VET school. As well as this, students also join inter-company courses, that improves and increases their vocational applied skills and abilities (Swisseducation.educa.ch, 2019)


The Austrian VET system has a high quantity of strengths. The Austrian VET system as it delivers a mixture of needs, providing safety networks for those with weak school results or disadvantaged backgrounds. The Austrian VET system also offers students a five year VET college programmes transporting high level technical training. Austria’s dual system has a well-structures apprenticeships that integrate learning in schools and workplace training. (Oecd.org, 2019)

Recent policy position on vocational education

In 2005, the Labour Government published the White Paper 14-19 Education and Skills, which established out a 10 year programme of reforms to transform the education system for 14 to 19 year-olds in England. This included proposals to modify and improve the qualifications, this included introducing diplomas, fresh and new qualifications and the growth in apprenticeships.

The paper explains that they will guarantee that precise support is available for vocational courses ‘we will ensure the correct staff are in place’ and that they will have ‘the professional development, qualifications and support they need’

In relation to vocational education and training, the White Paper stated that ‘young people have a law credibility and status in this country’ and that vocational education has never been ‘on track’ within the English education system. Vocational education for young people have failed to get the confidence of employers, higher education and the general public. The White Paper proposes that there is a requirement for an extensive development for vocational education and apprenticeships.

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The White paper implied that it would be simpler to ‘mix academic and vocational learning’ through introducing the Increased Flexibility Programme, which means that schools and colleges to work together that give young people more choice of curriculum and qualifications. The White Paper’s aim is to create a high quality method, which combines both academic and vocational training which is appreciated and respected by employers and universities and an appealing choice for young people and students. The White Paper states that if this is done successfully ‘it will be the key to preparing more young people to succeed in life and to make a productive contribution to society.’ (Educationengland.org.uk, 2019)

Leitch review (2006)

The Leitch Review was an objective review by Lord Sandy Leitch, the chairman of the National Employment Panel, appointed by the British Government in 2004. The Leitch Review had taken place due to apprehensions and worry over the capability of the UK to strive in the increasingly globalised markets, the concern was due to weak levels of literacy and numeracy in certain sections of the workforce. (TUC, 2019)

The Governments 2004 pre-budget document Skills in the global economy identified and reflected in the relatively low proportion of young people remaining in education after the age of 16, with limited skills development and training in higher levels once in work. The final Leitch Report was published in 2006 as Prosperity for all in the global economy (Leitch Report 2006)The review sets out aims to be met by 2020 that would make the UK a world leader in skills.

Wolf Review (2011)

The Wolf Review (2011) makes recommendations in relation to ‘basic skills’. The report proposed that there are too many ‘dead-end vocational qualifications used as equivalents to other qualifications for the sake of league tables and it is not in the best interest of the students.’ (Assets.publishing.service.gov.uk, 2019) The report also positions that vocational specialisation occurs ‘too early – later 16-19 apprenticeships will be tied into the job market.’ (Assets.publishing.service.gov.uk, 2019) As well as this, Professor Wolf indicated that a quarter to a third (300,00 – 400,00 (Assets.publishing.service.gov.uk, 2019) of 16-19 year olds are on subjects and courses which do not progress students to move onto higher education or well-paid occupations. The report also advises that it should be acceptable for students to choose which subjects they would like study, as there is too much centralised control of vocational qualifications. The report also recommends to include diverse teaching approaches and methods rather than ‘work-related content for the disaffected or low achieving pupils’. (GOV.UK, 2019)

Attempts to raise the status of vocational qualifications

Published on 27th May 2018, the Education Secretary appointed the 54 colleges and other suppliers to set to teach T Levels. ‘T Levels are courses, which will be on a par with A Levels’(GOV.UK, 2019) it will permit young people with a choice between technical and academic from the age of 16. T Levels includes courses such as; ‘construction, digital, education and childcare will be taught from 2020. Another 22 courses will be available from 2021, which will cover sectors such as ‘finance and accounting, engineering and manufacturing, and creative and design’ (GOV.UK, 2019)

As well as T Levels are being presented and introduced, the Government is generating a system of high-status Institutes of Technology (loTs) across the UK. loTs will offer quality training and apprenticeships in higher-level practical skills which are A level equivalent which will allow students to go up to degree level, which is eventually put them on the higher end of the pay scale. (GOV.UK, 2019)


In conclusion, Vocational Education within the English Education System has been undervalued and dismissed as a qualification by society, employees and universities due to low parity of esteem and status. The major barrier to encouraging and supporting vocational and technical education is the low esteem that is held to the usual A-Level and university pathways. To support this, Birdwell stated that England and Wales have neglected pupils with vocational aspirations, and focused on brighter children destined to go on to higher education. In relation to international comparisons, the English Education System should also focus on Germany, Switzerland’s and Austria’s routes and methods of vocational education in relation to dual apprentices. Many reviews and reports of vocational education have given advise and ways of overcoming the problem with vocational education and how to make it become a more popular route for students to take. The introduction of new T Levels will hopefully raise the status of vocational education within the English Education System.


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