dependent upon the growth of knowledge-based capacity, and will need people with a wide range of professional, intermediate and other vocational skills. Better vocational education and training provision is an economic necessity and we must be clear about the nature and purpose of vocational learning. However, there are no guarantees that up-skilling will help young people overcome labour market disadvantage or protect them against economic change or future recessions. The challenge is to influence perceptions about the status of vocational education and training, especially in comparison to higher education.
Issue How can we promote the benefits and opportunities of high- quality vocational education and training pathways to a wider range of learners?
Boosting the range and quality of vocational provision is a laudable goal and there are a range of proposals for doing so, including the development of local centres of expertise and leadership. However, there needs to be a clear distinction between curricula and forms of assessment designed to address the residual problems of mainstream school provision, and vocational learning that is designed to provide progression through further education, training and employment. In the debate about the consequences of separate academic and vocational tracks, the assumption that those not ‘achieving’ at age 14 or 16 should follow a vocational route is itself a significant barrier to enhancing vocational provision.
Issue How can vocational curricula be designed to support social inclusion without undermining attempts to enhance the status of vocational provision as a whole?
Evidence suggests that work-related learning initiatives, general vocational qualifications and vocational programmes in schools often lack a clear rationale. The purposes of work experience, the place of vocational qualifications before 16 and the motivational aspects of vocational learning all need further investigation. Clarification is needed of the role of employers, whose engagement with the reform process has so far been limited.
Issue How can employers be most helpfully involved in vocational education while appropriate educational objectives are maintained?
There is also a larger question. If knowledge work and lifelong learning are going to be increasingly important in future, does this have more fundamental implications for curriculum design in this phase? Should there be a more fundamental reconfiguration of subjects to give greater emphasis to the development of key processes? Would this disadvantage students who are attached to particular subject identities and appreciate studying their subject in depth?