Possibilities and Limitations of VET
When it examined the place of VET within 14-19 provision, the research identified significant possibilities and limitations. For students who wish to work in a specific employment sector, VET provision with close employer- college relations, whether employer-based or college–based, can work very well. Such provision also worked well for students who were unsure that this was what they wanted to do when they started the course, but grew to like that type of work as the course developed. They are less good for students who do not know what they want to do, who discover during the course that this is a type of work that they do not want to do, or who discover that aspects of the job or of the qualification requirement are beyond them. A particular problem on the nursery nursing course was faced by a few students who were excellent workplace performers but failed the written assessments
For students without clear vocational ambitions, it is possible for entirely college- or school-based provision, like that in vocational GCSEs or vocational A levels, to provide a valuable part of a more general education. This is particularly true if course content is not tightly constrained by employer needs, and a more broadly-based critical approach can be adopted. However, such courses may be less effective as potential routes into employment, unless supportive links with local employers are also developed.
Vocational courses often offer a second chance to students who have not done well with mainstream academic school provision. Many students value this second chance and the practical and instrumental focus of the work. However, this purpose for VET serves to reinforce its inferior status compared to prestigious academic qualifications. Furthermore, our research revealed hierarchies of status between VET qualifications. These hierarchies are seen in the attitudes of tutors and some students, in the required entry qualifications, and in the ways that possible progression routes are described. So the current VET system and its division from the academic curriculum reproduce and reinforce educational and employment inequalities.
VET works best when a student can commit him or herself with certainty to a specific job area, and does not change his or her mind later. However, TLC research supports other studies which show that this sort of certainty is rare. It is more common for students to be unsure what they want to become, to choose a course almost on a whim or, even if the intention was firm when the choice was made, to change their minds later, before the course was finished.
Much current VET provision is not well suited for the majority of students who change their minds in this way, and the least suitable are those courses which have the strongest employer links. The course content becomes increasingly irrelevant for a student who does not want to work in the specific area targeted.