Vocational education: The fight for parity of esteem

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The annual lecture of the Edge Foundation also marked the charity’s 10th anniversary. Jan Hodges reflects on a decade of campaigning for vocational education.

Celebrating our 10th anniversary provided Edge with a timely opportunity to pause for reflection. Over the last 10 years the Edge Foundation has championed technical, practical and vocational learning. This year, we used the Edge annual lecture to celebrate all that we have achieved with the support of our many partners over the past decade.

Best-selling author, philosopher and mechanic, Matthew B Crawford, delivered this year’s lecture where he made the case for working with your hands. 

He spoke about the intrinsic satisfaction and sense of security that comes from a career in the trades, and how, with our increasing reliance on technology, we are suffering from “learned helplessness”.

He made the point that just because the work is dirty it doesn’t make it stupid and this chimed with me particularly as it is an example of the barriers we face time and time again when speaking to parents.

Parents are keenly aware of the challenges facing young people today. Blending academic and practical subjects is an attractive option both in school and beyond. 

That has been Edge’s message since we started 10 years ago – and parents agree. In research we published to coincide with the annual lecture, Edge found that attitudes are changing. Over three quarters of parents want young people to get a “baccalaureate” style certificate summing up achievements in both academic and practical subjects. What’s more, 70 per cent are in support of technical degrees for people who want to combine academic study and “hands-on” work.

Alongside the keynote speech, we also ran three panel sessions discussing the role Edge has had to play in various projects and institutions. Sitting on one of the panels about projects and individuals supported by Edge investment was Graeme Taylor whose story is quite remarkable. 

In 2006, he won a trip to the NASA space centre in Florida as part of Edge into Space, an Edge schools competition. He recounted how the trip had a profound impact on him and effectively shaped his life. 

He now works at the European Space Agency ESTEC Facility in Noordwijk, The Netherlands, as a young graduate trainee, but credits seeing the Edge into Space poster at his school as the genesis point of his career.

Also on the panel was Lindsey Dunn from Skills to Shine. She explained how with the support of a grant from Edge, the Skills to Shine programme has been able to support hundreds of children. She explained how Skills to Shine increases students’ awareness and understanding of the variety of vocational career options open to them and makes learning real and relevant to their future career prospects.

Earlier this year, The Eden Project received a grant from the Edge Innovation and Development Fund. Charlotte Russell sat alongside Graeme and Lindsey and described how the Eden Project is using the grant to develop an extensive education programme on site. 

They are working in partnership with Cornwall College Group and being supported by the Cornwall Food Foundation, River Cottage and a number of renowned local food and horticulture sites to offer students a balance of academic qualifications and real professional experience. The first stage of the programme has already started with Apprenticeships and plans are in place to provide a variety of qualifications all the way through to Foundation Degrees.

One of the highlights of the event was the final panel session, in which young people from Rye Studio School, the Edge Hotel School and the Elstree UTC spoke about their experiences.

The passion they have for their learning is inspiring and is a huge reminder about why we champion these routes. The ethos of these institutions is built around engaging students in hands-on learning that is employer-led. This means that learning is not carried out in isolation, it is real and work-relevant.

As we build on the success of the past 10 years, we are looking forward to what the future will bring: we have the potential to breathe fresh life into our economy and re-energise the industries that made us great. We are taking strides towards equality for all forms of learning but we still have many miles to go. 

So, while we are celebrating what we have achieved in our first 10 years, we are by no means resting on our laurels. As long as technical, practical and vocational learning routes are deemed inferior to academic ones, Edge will continue to champion them.

  • Jan Hodges OBE is CEO of the Edge Foundation, the independent education charity dedicated to raising the status of technical, practical and vocational learning. Visit www.edge.co.uk

Further information
You can watch the Edge Foundation annual lecture video at http://bit.ly/1rt1SLU

CAPTION: Annual lecture: (from top) Author and mechanic Matthew B Crawford; students from the Edge Hotel School; Lord Baker, chairman of Edge


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