Vocational education review looks bad for diplomas

09 Sep 2010

 The announcement that Professor Alison Wolf will lead a government review into vocational education looks like bad news for the diplomas.

Professor Wolf is an independent and original thinker but she has a very clear pre-existing position on vocational education, so Michael Gove knows exactly what he's going to get from choosing her to lead the review (she is the second member of the family to be advising the government, since Wolf's daughter, Rachel, used to be a Tory education policy advisor and now runs the New Schools Network). 

In particular, Professor Wolf believes that vocational education should be genuinely practical. She has been scathing about the hybrid approach of diplomas and their failure to deliver practical instruction alongside the academic element of the courses.

In the past, Wolf has described diplomas as 'devoid of educational purpose and coherence' . By contrast, Wolf is an enthusiast for high quality apprenticeships that also offer a route into higher education.

She is also a critic of bureaucratic structures and big government.

Professor Wolf's biography is here: www.kcl.ac.uk/schools/sspp/mgmt/people/academic/wolf/

User Comments

Elaine Hendry - 09 Sep 2010

The Wolf Review

You say that this is bad news for Diplomas, but they were never meant to be 'vocational' anyway - whatever 'vocational' means.

At today's Edge lecture, where he announced the review, Michael Gove said how much he dislikes the 'v' word, and prefers 'practical/technical education'. He also spoke very passionately (!) about UTCs and the concept of combining practical education with 'academic' study - eg English and maths GCSEs - to ensure a well-rounded approach, which closes no doors, but rather opens them, because employers like such a mix.

That's exactly what Diplomas are supposed to provide, and why so many employers have been so supportive of them. Indeed, the UTCs due to open next year are focusing - as far as I understand it - on providing Diplomas as their main qualification.

Wolf might review individual lower BTECs and NVQs that are condemned by some as worthless. That's fine - they can form part of Diplomas or Apprenticeships, and the higher they are in quality the better.

Am I being overly naive or optimstic?

Ben Gibbs - 09 Sep 2010

The Edge lecture and UTCs

As Lord Baker suggested this morning, Gove's presentation and announcement of the Wolf Review should come to be seen as of great significance in the reform of the UK vocational/practical education sector.

But for me, its key component was neither the semantic flip-flop between the V word and the P word, or the relative merits of any one particular qualification or assessment package. Rather, it was to do with the fact that UTCs - and indeed schools and FE providers more generally - will be free to do pretty much whatever works best for the students, employers and communities they serve. It may take some practitioners a while to get their heads round this new culture of permissiveness and innovation, but in the meantime, the rest of us are moving on.

Ben Norwood - 09 Sep 2010


Why do they need to review Diplomas anyway? The whole point of the qualifications is that they were designed by representatives of employers (the Sector Skills Councils) and universities to provide the necessary knowledge, skills and understanding they wanted in applicants.

They are not strictly academic or vocational, but rather a hybrid between the two.

From the Diplomas website (http://is.gd/f2EJ1):
"Diplomas combine academic learning with practical, hands-on skills"

But of course the CBI and IoD don't like them (and never have - they like to preserve the myth of the "Gold Standard" of GCSEs and A Levels) - they were the only main objectors to the original scheme as proposed in Tomlinson's 14-19 review, and the reason the diplomas as implemented were watered down.

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