The Vocational Education landscape in Britain today is very complex: there are number of different types and levels of vocational qualifications, and over 130 different awarding bodies.
This complexity is because there are several different institutions involved with delivering vocational education and awarding qualifications – from schools to employers in many different sectors.
The UK Skills System: An Introduction by The British Council provides a useful overview of the UK’s Technical, Vocational Education and Training (TVET) sector.
- Schools – who provide 14-16 Vocational Qualifications
- Further Education Colleges – who mainly provide 16-19 vocational qualifications such as BTECs and City and Guilds qualifications.
- Universities – who provide Degree level Higher Technical Qualifications (some FE colleges will also provide these)
- Employers – who provide a range of different apprenticeships
- Private training providers – who will provide a range of any post-16 qualification.
The report notes that today there are flexible pathways available to learners so that they may move between academic, vocational/professional and apprenticeship routes.
14-16 Vocational GCSEs
These don’t seem to be very popular. This report notes that only 33000 students started a vocational GCSE compared to 565000 who started maths, in 2016-17
16-19 Vocational qualifications
The main types of 16-19 vocational qualifications are either level 2 or level 3 BTECs and City and Guilds qualifications. You can explore the later by visiting the City and Guilds web site, which also has information about apprenticeships.
These are new technical A-levels to be introduced from September 2020 – they are two year courses designed to be the equivalent of 3 A Levels.
They involve at least 45 days of work experience and have been designed to provide students with a direct pathway into skilled employment
They are available in a number of different subject/ employment areas including:
- education and childcare
- on-site construction
- media, broadcast and production.
In 2018-19 there were almost 750 000 people in Apprenticeships, with the numbers of apprenticeship starts in recent years falling from 500 000 a year to 350 000 a year today.
This House of Commons Briefing Paper on Apprenticeship Statistics is a useful place to explore this further.
Criticisms of Vocational Education today
The RSA notes the following problems:
- There has been a lack of a clear, long term vision and strategy about what direction vocational education should take.
- There has been insufficient funding, not helped by funding cuts to the post-16 sector since 2010.
- There’s been poor employer engagement in training provision.
- There is a fragmented system of delivery – with some students getting very high quality vocational education, but too many getting sub-standard training.
- The majority of parents still hold academic qualifications in more esteem than vocational qualifications
Another recent report from 2018 which compares vocational education in Britain with that in France and Germany notes that:
- The British education system values academic qualifications more and focuses its resources on nurturing the academically most able, vocational education is seen as inferior and gets relatively less funding.
- Funding for vocational education ‘stop-gap’ or ‘reactionary’ – the government funds vocational opportunities in local areas where industry is in decline, to deal with unemployment, rather than pro-actively funding vocational courses.
- The standards of British vocational courses are generally lower than in France or Germany
- The diversity of choice is lower than in France or Germany.
- These have tended to treat issues of ethnicity and underachievement together with poverty and educational achievement.