A provocative think piece exploring expansive pedagogy in colleges

Pedagogic leadership – Creating cultures and practices for outstanding vocational learning

It is good to see vocational education coming centre stage in the education debate. The time is absolutely right – vocational courses are not just a ‘second chance’ default for those who have not done well in school-based academic studies. Aside from rhetoric around the ‘forgotten 50 per cent’ and the need to drive up skills in order to boost the economy, we are seeing new programmes, such as traineeships, new qualifications, such as tech levels, and new accountability measures, such as the technical baccalaureate, all with the declared intention of raising the profile and value of vocational programmes.

The attention is very welcome, but often the focus is somewhat misplaced. In much of what we hear, there is an assumption that our current system of vocational education has ‘failed’, and that the way to make it better is to make it more like its ‘academic’ counterpart. This message is heard on all sides
of the political debate, with talk of centres of excellence and support for new types of institution, alongside policies aimed at bringing ‘rigour’ and ‘robustness’ through synoptic assessment and employer‑endorsed qualifications.

We all accept that more can, and must, be done to ensure the highest possible quality in the vocational learning undertaken by millions in this country. But two misconceptions remain – the first is that ‘vocational’ learning is only really about trades such as bricklaying, motor vehicle, and hairdressing and the second is that complex pedagogy is the exclusive domain of the ‘academic’ world.

It is not difficult to understand that all of us need to undertake vocational learning as we prepare for working life – after all, it is vocational learning that teaches us the skill and the craft of how to do a job, and, in many ways, it is the more difficult part of learning. To put it simply, it is the skill that needs to balance with the knowledge. And the excellent How To Teach Vocational Education, published in 2012, set out for the first time the ways in which the pedagogy behind vocational learning is an immensely complex concept.

So impressive was that report that, early in 2013, the 157 Group of further education colleges and City & Guilds came together to commission its authors, Bill Lucas and Guy Claxton, to work with us to explore the implications for leaders in colleges who aspire to deliver outstanding vocational education
for all their learners. Alongside their research, Bill and Guy organised a day-long seminar with key leaders from colleges, in the 157 Group and beyond, and important influencers and policymakers in the education world.

This publication is largely the result of that day, during which ideas were shared and debated, and the passion that college leaders brought to the arena was manifest. In this document, Bill and Guy have built upon their previous work and offer a message that chimes with previous work from the 157 Group and City & Guilds concerned with leadership and culture. It is an indication of the growing nature of our partnership that we feel this will add to our knowledge in a very rich way.

157 Group colleges are taking forward the complexities of vocational education with networks of research professionals and combining this with new approaches to teaching and learning. An example of this work is that City & Guilds has refreshed its TechBac®, where what is emerging is a new relationship between the acquisition of technical knowledge; how it is then taught and applied; and its relationship to the employer and the workplace. In all that we do, relevance to the workplace is critical, alongside the preparation for progression to higher levels of learning, such as higher education.

Changing the perception of vocational education and its benefits is a ‘hearts and minds’ job inside and outside the sector.

So, importantly, this publication offers a very concrete set of actions for leaders in colleges who understand how complex vocational education is, how critical it is to the success of every learner and who wish to bring it centre stage in their organisational performance. We hope you find it as stimulating
as we have done.

Click to download full pdf

Peter Roberts
Chair
157 Group

Kirstie Donnelly MBE
Director Product Learning Technology Development
City & Guilds

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