Wednesday, 15 February 2012

"Middle Class or nothing"?

A recent –ish discussion on Question Time about the downgrading of the status of many vocational qualifications reminded me of something a girl in one of my seminar groups said the other day about social mobility; “It’s like, now…you have to be middle class or nothing…”; there’s a feeling that the only route you can acceptably take is via university into middle class jobs. 

But what if that’s not what you want to do?

Nevermind the economic necessity of manual jobs (well, actually; do mind it…it’s really freakin’ important, but in addition…); don’t we want everyone to find the occupation that is best suited to them, rather than narrowing the potential life options of the next generation?

So what can be done about the dichotomy of “middle class or nothing”?

Of course, the downgrading of many vocational qualifications doesn’t help; they require more work than one GCSE, therefore they should be worth more than one GCSE, otherwise schools will be less inclined to offer them. And to those who would turn their nose up at, say, a nail technology qualification; that’s a practical, useable skill, while one of the many useful things I learnt in Classics GCSE was how high the pavements were off the roads in Pompeii.

But however much I love to slag off Classics GCSE (not saying anything against studying ancient history or culture; it’s just a dumb syllabus), there is nothing wrong with academic subjects. More than nothing wrong; I loved studying many academic subjects at school and would not take back my experience of them for the world.

However, that I defiantly have an academic bent doesn’t mean “kids like me” should shy away from vocational qualifications, and “kids like [insert stereotypical person who might take a vocational qualification here]” shouldn’t be encouraged away from vocational subjects; it shouldn’t have to be a choice.

GCSEs…aren’t a time for knowing what you’re good at, not really. You might have a rough idea, but mostly they’re for working out what you’re good at, and what you like. And more teenagers should be encouraged to take a wide range of types of GCSE; encouraging the divide into the “vocational type” and the “academic type” encourages, I would argue, one to be seen as superior, which is always likely to be the academic type. The academic becomes the goal and the vocational the backup. Both should be seen as normal mainstream options; and if offering both to an adequate level is too much for many schools to juggle we should look at partnership schemes where pupils can go and study vocational subjects at one school and academic at another. I would advocate that no pupil be allowed to do either purely vocational subjects, or purely academic subjects; aside from the obvious English, Maths and Science as compulsory all pupils should have at least one of each type of subject in their GCSE line up, to give pupils a broader education.

And we certainly shouldn’t be downgrading vocational qualifications.

Beyond this, however much David Cameron talking about people “learning a proper trade” makes me roll my eyes, this government’s investment in apprenticeships is something to be applauded (ew; I just agreed with a piece of coalition policy…); but making the route into vocational training more mainstream, and working to improve the social acceptance of vocational qualifications would lay the foundations in young people’s lives, opening up vocational training and work as a potential career path.

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