Attitudes remain biggest barrier to vocational parity


While recent moves to provide better quality and more coherent vocational routes for students are welcome, the key challenge continues to centre on changing public attitudes, a leading researcher has warned.

A paper by Tami McCrone, a research director with the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER), says policy-makers must “lead the charge” in breaking down “entrenched views that academic routes are better for all”.

A key issue, it states, is that a majority of young people continue to turn to parents and teachers for careers advice, but that these groups tend to have biased views towards academic and vocational study.

It quotes three research studies. The first found that 70 per cent of young people turn to parents and 57 per cent to teachers for careers advice, the second that 

65 per cent of teachers would rarely or never advise a student to take an Apprenticeship if they had the grades required for university entry, and the third that only a quarter of parents judge vocational education to be worthwhile.

As a result, the paper calls for a “basic knowledge of the range of options open to young people and where to direct them for impartial advice” to be made a part of teachers’ professional standards.

It states: “(This) would build on their awareness, developed through teacher training, that young people learn in different ways. Through inclusion in on-going professional development, and more interaction with employers, teachers would be able to continually update their knowledge on transition routes and the importance of young people receiving impartial advice.”

Also key, it says, is providing better information to parents through a national awareness campaign that “challenges perceptions of vocational qualifications as ‘second-rate’ to academic ones”.

Third, the paper calls for more “collaborative working between schools, colleges and employers to provide young people with information on academic and vocational routes”.

Ms McCrone said: “Following recent reforms to improve the quality of vocational education, winning hearts and minds over to its merits is now one of the biggest barriers to the uptake of these qualifications here in England. 

“But this is what we will have to do in order to achieve the elusive parity of esteem between academic and vocational qualifications. 

“The right attitude is what is needed. An attitude that recognises that young people learn in different ways, are interested in different things, want to have different careers – and that all learning is positive.”

The paper can be downloaded at


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