The 2011 Wolfe Report on Vocational Education

The 2011 Review of Vocational Education, also known as the 2011 Wolf Report noted a number of strengths and limitations of Vocational Education in England and Wales in 2011, before going on to make almost 30 recommendations.

This is an important report because it set the scene for a possible major (if very gradual) restructuring of the delivery of vocational education in England and Wales.

The strengths of Vocational Education in 2011

  • Some vocational courses taught important and valuable labour market skills to a very high standard, skills which couldn’t be met through academic courses.
  • Some Vocational courses offered a direct route to higher level study – hundreds of thousands of students had benefited from these.
  • Some prestigious apprenticeships were massively over-subscribed, and thus very popular (in high demand)
  • Good vocational programmes are respected, valuable and an important part of our, and any other country’s, educational provision.

The limitations of Vocational Education in 2011

Too many vocational students were pursuing sub-standard vocational pathways:

  • Many 16 to 17 year olds were moving in and out of education and short-term
    employment.
  • Between a quarter and a third of post-16 vocational students were doing vocational qualifications with little labour market value.
  • At least 350,000 students were getting little to no benefit from the post-16 education system.
  • The report saw English and Maths GCSE (at grades A*-C) as fundamental to young people’s future prospects, yet less than 50% of students had achieved both by the age of 16.
  • The system then steered that 50% of Maths and English failures into ‘inferior’ vocational qualifications.

Recommendations based on the above report

The report made 27 recommendations, including:

  • Schools should have more freedom to offer vocational qualifications for pupils aged 14-16
  • Students who fail their GCSEs in English and Maths at age 16 should be required to redo them as part of their post 16 study.
  • There needs to be a set of general standards for all post 16 vocational programmes
  • Post-16 students shouldn’t be able to pursue a purely occupation based training course, there should be some kind of academic study in there.
  • The bottom quintile of achieving students should pursue post-16 education which focus on employability and ‘core skills’.
  • Employers who provided apprenticeships should be paid.
  • Generally there needs to be better links and standardisation between colleges and employers in the provision of training.
  • If students don’t use up their ‘education allowance by the age of 19’ they should be given a credit to use later on in life.

Some of the recommendations were quite wooly!

The 2015 review of Progress

If you’re interested you can read this here!

Sources

The 2011 Wolfe Report

Vocational Education in Britain Today

Vocational eduacation in Britain today is complex – involving a range or qualifications from GCSEs, BTECs, City and Guids, T levels and higher degree level qualifications and a range of providers – from schools to apprenticeships provided mainly by employers

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.

T-Levels

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:

  • accounting
  • catering
  • education and childcare
  • on-site construction
  • media, broadcast and production.

Apprenticeships

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.

Evaluate Sociological Perspectives on Vocational Education (30)

Evaluations in italics!

VocationalSkills
Vocational Education refers to teaching people the specific knowledge and skills to prepare them for a particular career. Vocational Education can either be on the job training – such as with apprenticeships, or courses focused on a particular career in a college (typically 16-19).

The New Right introduced Vocational Educational in the 1980s. At the time they argued that Britain needed job-related training in order to combat high levels of unemployment at that time, and in order to prepare young people for a range of new jobs emerging with new technologies, and to make them more competitive in a globalising economy.

Two vocational policies the New Right introduced were National Vocational Qualifications (NVQs) and the Youth Training Scheme (YTS). The former involved building a portfolio of evidence to prove you had the specific skills necessary for a job, and the later involved on the job training, in which trainees received a small wage, funded by the government.

At first glance, the expansion of Vocational Education in the 1980s seems to support the Functionalist view of education – as it seems be about getting people ready for work and performing the function of ‘role allocation’ more effectively, however, there were a number of criticisms of early Vocationalism

Two criticisms of these policies were that NVQs were seen by many as an inferior qualification to the more academic ‘A’ level subjects, and much on the job training was of a low quality because it wasn’t very well regulated – some trainees were basically just glorified tea boys (according to research by Marxist sociologist Dan Finn in the 1980s.)

New Labour expanded Vocational Education, seeing it as a way to provide individuals with the training needed to be competitive in a globalised Post-Fordist, high skilled/ high waged economy.

The main plank of Labour’s Vocational Policy was The New Deal for young people which Provided some kind of guaranteed training for any 18-24 year old who had been unemployed for more than 6 months. This was set up in 1998 and initially cost £3.5 billion. Employers were offered a government subsidy to take on people under 25 who had been unemployed for more than 6 months. By March 2003 almost 1 million people had started the New Deal, and 40% of them had moved on to full-time unsubsidised jobs.

A second central aspect of New Labour’s Vocational Policy was the introduction of The Modern Apprenticeships scheme in 2002.There are many different levels of Apprenticeships in a huge range of industries, and they typically involve on the job training in sectors ranging from tourism to engineering. Those undertaking them are paid a small wage, which varies with age, while undertaking training.

Some of the early modern apprenticships were criticised for being exploitative – some companies simply hired workers to a 6 week training course and then sacked them and rehired more trainees as a means of getting cheap labour. However, overall, apprenticeships have been a huge success and there are now hundreds of thousands of people who do them in any one year.

A third strand of New Labour’s Vocational Policy was The Introduction of Vocational A levels –Today, the most commonly recognised type of Vocational A level is the BTEC – Which Edexcel defines as being ‘designed as specialist work-related qualifications and are available in a range of sectors like business, engineering and ICT. A number of BTECs are recognised as Technical Certificates and form part of the Apprenticeship Framework.’

While the purpose of this was to try and eradicate the traditional vocational-academic divide it was mostly working class children went down the vocational route, while middle class children did A levels, which many middle class parents regard as the only ‘proper qualifications’, and from a broadly Marxist analysis Vocational Education simply reinforces the class divide.

In conclusion, the fact that Vocational Education has gradually been extended over the years suggests that successive governments see it as playing an important role in our society, especially in getting children ready for work and providing them with the type of skills our economy needs. It is also clear that a number of children simply are not suited to a purely academic education, so in an increasingly diverse society, it is likely to have a continued role to play. However, we also need to recognise that there are problems with it, such as with unscrupulous employers using on the job training as a means of getting cheap labour, so steps need to be taken to ensure it is effectively regulated.