Director of skills and employment OCR
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The value of vocation

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18th Sep 2014
Director of skills and employment OCR
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Charlotte Bosworth makes a case for the value of vocational training and skill recognition - as opposed to a reliance upon exam assessment - when it comes to helping prepare people for the world of work.

The roles and results delivered by the education and training sectors in order to support the needs of the wider economy are under ever-increasing scrutiny as concerns persist about outcomes when it comes to readying people for the world of work.

Recent reforms seeking to address the fact that about one fifth of school leavers remain illiterate and innumerate underscore such concerns. With the occupational landscape set to be very different by 2030, this means that qualifications and skills attainment need to become ever more relevant to support the workplace.

However, as we seek to drive improvements across the board, the contribution and value of vocational-based training and qualifications is beginning to gain real traction as stakeholders and political leaders realise the significant contribution it can make.

The cash to fund up to 100,000 new apprenticeships announced early in 2014 was welcome news, meaning more people will be afforded the opportunity to learn vocationally, obtain skills and, ultimately, make a telling impact. The general consensus across the political spectrum of the need to deliver greater apprentice opportunities is undoubtedly giving vocational training the momentum it badly needs.

Permanent change

This is heartening at a time when the foundation on which vocational-based teaching and training is delivered in schools and further education colleges is being reviewed. When it comes to education provision the term, ‘change is permanent’ is highly applicable. Various governments have, over the years, launched landmark initiatives designed to shake up the status quo, convinced that new frameworks, proposals, governance and structures will lead to better results and improved outcomes for all ages.

In particular, the vocational qualification landscape is changing but our remit is to ensure we continue to value recognition of people’s skills, knowledge and experience. It is for this compelling reason that the merits of skills recognition, alongside elements such as exam-free assessment, should remain as an appropriate enticement for people so that they can fulfil their potential.

It is clear that people learn in different ways and that the role of vocational training and qualification is gaining greater credibility, alongside more traditional exam-based learning approaches. For the first time, we are seeing more general agreement that vocational qualifications have both authority and a valid role in helping to prepare the next workforce with a range of practical skills and personal attributes that make them attractive to employers.

But the nuances of a strong vocational learning environment have to be recognised and understood.

It is important to acknowledge that not everyone’s skills can always be accurately and fairly qualified by traditional exam-based qualification. Seeking to implement more exams into the learning process isn’t the correct way of demonstrating the quality and value of vocational training, as much research points to the fact that young people will not always thrive in such an environment.

Bespoke qualifications

On occasion, and to meet the needs of such students, there is the requirement to create more bespoke vocational-based qualifications that recognise potential, support learning growth and deliver confident and skilled young people. OCR has spent many years innovating to develop such assessment qualifications and has a strong track record in supporting the education and training community in this way.

In fact, OCR is currently looking at news ways of measuring the development of and providing recognition for, skills that are not best measured by a qualification outcome. A new approach is needed for students who haven’t engaged in education previously and who may struggle with literacy, numeracy and general communication. We need to help them to understand a little better why they are learning, and the connection to the world of work.

Indeed, one of the true benefits of vocational training is the direct link it delivers for students to the workplace and how it can reinforce the validity of their learning in relation to future employability.

In an ideal world, it is employability that is the key issue so that people are in a position to make an informed and positive contribution, and businesses can utilise the skills of confident, motivated individuals.

Holistic combination

Students require a holistic combination of essential skills (maths and English); enablement so that they better understand why they are learning, and then practical and inspirational educational course support to access the skills, values and characteristics that will ultimately help them in the world of commerce and make them prized assets.

Central to this vital combination for many students is vocational training. If we agree that vocational training is an essential element of producing well-rounded, self-assured students ready to make a contribution to the workplace, then we must be mindful of introducing additional elements (such as more exams) to the vocational learning experience which will, ultimately, dilute what makes it attractive to many students in the first place.

Continuing to ensure that vocational training meets the requirements and standards sought by potential employers can help satisfy the government’s wish for more rigorous scrutiny and better outcomes. It can also deliver a stimulating learning experience for students, helping them to fulfil their potential and strengthen the credibility of vocational training in the eyes of the wider community.

Charlotte Bosworth is director of skills and employment at exam board OCR.

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