‘Forget technical and professional education: there’s nothing wrong with the word vocational’

By Bill Lucas

25th November www.tes.com


Ditching the term ‘vocational’ is likely to perpetuate an even more corrosive split than the academic versus vocational divide, writes a leading educationalist.

There are at least three ways of raising the quality of vocational education. We can look at assessment (as Baroness Wolf did so effectively five years ago), we can look at structures and systems (as Lord Sainsbury has done recently) or we can focus on workforce capability and pedagogy (as we have argued in our research into vocational pedagogy).

Whichever method we prefer – and we need all three – we need first to specify the outcomes we desire from our vocational pathway before designing systems, qualifications and pedagogies. Our choice of language needs to follow not precede such thinking.

Read full article here


Putting the body back into school


Blog on Intelligence in the Flesh- new book by Guy Claxton, Emeritus Professor, University of Winchester

When schools were originally being designed, they incorporated the then-widespread view that minds were totally different from and smarter than bodies. Everything to do with human intelligence at its best – logical reasoning, linguistic fluency, aesthetic appreciation, mathematical sophistication – were exclusively to do with the mind, and had nothing to do with the body. Bodies were just ways of getting your mind from place to place, and of taking care of the physiological housekeeping. Thus the curriculum was built around a hierarchy of esteem for different kinds of human accomplishment, with the most abstract and rational at the top and the most bodily at the bottom. The more intelligence you had, the more you would, almost as a law of nature, aspire to the realms of mathematics and grammar, and disdain the lowly pursuits of carpentry and football. If you were ‘bright’ you did Latin and trigonometry; if ‘dull’ you did Physical Education and Design Technology. Those values persist to this day. Look at which subjects get included in (or excluded from) the high-status ‘English baccalaureate’. Look at how much time each gets during the week.

This view of minds and bodies is now comprehensively discredited, so the foundations of traditional schooling are no longer solid rock but have crumbled into sand. The new science of ‘embodied cognition’ – the basis of my book Intelligence in the Flesh – tells us that bodies are not merely vehicles or skivvies of the mind, they are critical to it. For example:

  • How you think depends on how you are sitting. Sit up straight, chest out, and you will solve anagram puzzles more quickly and accurately. Adopt such a ‘power pose’ before going in to an interview and you will perform better.
  • The depth of your normal breathing correlates with your IQ. Breathe faster or more shallowly and the quality of the energy being provided to those little grey cells deteriorates and you can entertain fewer and less complicated thoughts.
  • Develop greater sensitivity to your heartbeat and your decision-making and your creativity improve. Einstein famously said that he got the insights that led to the theory of relativity by attending to physical stirrings and promptings in his body.
  • Many people – philosophers as well as footballers – think their best thoughts when they are being physically active. Theatre directors as well as sports coaches know that many smart people have to move to think. Craftsmen and artists of all kinds know that you think with your hands as well as with your brain.
  • Whether you find arithmetic involving negative numbers easy or hard turns out to depend on physical imagery. If you think of ‘subtracting’ as taking things away from a pile, you can’t imagine having less than no-things, but if you see it as walking backwards on a path towards where you started, it’s easy to imagine walking back through ‘zero’ and heading in the opposite direction. Our concrete, physical experience underpins even our loftiest thoughts.
  • Change your body – change even your awareness of your body – and your precious intelligence – memory, problem-solving, creativity – changes too. Your whole body – your heart, your stomach, your immune system – talk so constantly and intricately to your brain, that every little somatic shift conditions what the rest of the brain is capable of thinking.

This science has caused a seismic shift in the ground on which education is built. Emotions are not anathema to intelligence, they are integral to it. Take away our feelings and we are not more intelligent but less. Drain the passion out of our intelligence and we are left with a kind of bloodless cleverness that may enable us to bamboozle political opponents with rhetoric tricks but which is quite unable to get to the human heart of the matter. Our top schools (and Ofsted) have prided themselves on turned out future leaders who are erudite and rational, but who, very often, lack common sense, let alone the wise judgement that the world needs. Meanwhile, every year tens of thousands of intelligent young people who are sensitive to the nuances of the physical and social worlds, but unable or unwilling to mug up the Periodic Table or the sub-plots of Othello for an exam, are made, iniquitously, to feel stupid or second rate. But it is the defenders of this antiquated and lop-sided curriculum who should feel ashamed of themselves, not the dancers, carers and mechanics.

Buy Intelligence in the Flesh here

Let’s devise pedagogy that’s fit for a king

Ahead of National Apprenticeship Week, an alliance of experts is aiming to restore learning to the heart of the programme

In the build-up to the general election, hardly a day goes by without a politician talking about how many apprenticeships they will create if voted into office. We should be delighted that this pathway is gaining recognition. So why am I uneasy?

Maybe it’s because I remember the “50 per cent should go to university” pledge of the first Blair government. This figure, like the promise of more apprenticeships, was a general aspiration that distracted us from whether it was desirable or deliverable. My unease is compounded when I hear Ofsted’s Sir Michael Wilshaw insisting that apprenticeships “must have parity of esteem with A-levels”. I want to agree, but I know this will only happen when we understand the pedagogy of apprenticeships and stop playing political games with the numbers.

Today’s apprenticeships are located in a workplace context with opportunities for off-the-job learning. They involve a variety of interactions with people who are skilled in a chosen profession. Apprenticeship is both an educational brand and a way of learning.

Sign of the times

In the Middle Ages these two meanings were blurred. Apprentices (boys only) would live with their master and his family for seven years. This individual was responsible for the apprentice’s technical competence and his moral development.

An apprenticeship is a special kind of job with inbuilt learning, designed to prepare an individual for future employment and active citizenship. But too often we think of apprenticeships as just being about skills and readiness for work. We need to be much more expansive and ambitious than this if apprenticeship is to compete with other educational routes.

City & Guilds, the 157 Group of colleges and the Association of Employment and Learning Providers have created an alliance dedicated to gathering evidence about vocational education. In our most recent research, Remaking Apprenticeships, we propose six desirable outcomes for anyone undertaking an apprenticeship:

1. Routine expertise: reliable skill in an occupation.

2. Resourcefulness: the capacity to think and act in new situations.

3. Craftsmanship: pride and an ethic of excellence.

4. Functional literacies: literacy, numeracy, digital and graphical.

5. A businesslike attitude: customer- and client-focused, entrepreneurial and aware of value for money.

6. Wider skills for growth: the disposition and wider skills needed for a lifetime of learning and change.

Too often apprenticeships simply focus on the first, fourth and fifth of these outcomes because they are easier to teach and assess than the other three. But it is these overlooked qualities that can make apprentices distinctive.

Look and learn

Apprenticeships are currently being overhauled by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS), which has called for a “radical reform programme that will make apprenticeships in England the best in the world”. To achieve this ambition, BIS is essentially trying to simplify the system and give employers greater ownership.

But there is an astonishing omission in the new specifications: there is almost no mention of learning or the learning processes apprentices need to experience. This cannot be wise. In our research, we have found strong evidence for the effectiveness of a variety of teaching and learning methods – a blend of different approaches will almost always need to be used.

Furthermore, we suggest three key features of apprenticeships that require attention. The first is that they take place both on and off the job, so we need to decide what is learned where. Second, they involve learning from and with others, so where apprentices are in small organisations we need to think about how they access a larger community of practice. And third, it is essential that the processes of learning are visible and clear, because we know this is important for all teaching. These three features will help to ensure that apprentices understand why they are doing what they are doing, and will foster effective collaboration between the people supporting them.

BIS also says that “learners must demand high-quality pedagogy”. Indeed, we should go further. Educational psychologist Lee S Shulman coined a concept called “signature pedagogy”. A signature pedagogy encapsulates the essence of a particular occupation or profession, so the signature pedagogy of engineering, for example, would involve making things and making things work better using the engineering design process – problem-finding, designing, testing, improving and so on.

Our alliance believes that each apprenticeship has its own signature pedagogy – a blend of learning methods that will work best. We hope that our research will stimulate debate, promote practical action and encourage collaboration. Above all, we have an unshakeable desire to put learning back at the heart of apprenticeship reform.

Published in TES magazine on 6 March, 2015 – https://www.tes.co.uk/article.aspx?storycode=11006626


Podcast: discussing CRL’s expansive approach to vocational pedagogy with the TES

Join the TES’ very own Sarah Simons as she talks vocational pedagogy with Professor Bill Lucas, Jayne Stigger and Dr Jean Kelly in yet another wonderful episode of the TES further education podcast.