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The Wolf Report – top quality, but Andy Powell says the

key question is just what Michael Gove will do with it

many times before, but this is the main message from Professor Alison Wolf’s comprehensive, compelling and hard-hitting review of vocational education. She also makes it clear that there are some “truly


excellent vocational qualifications”, and that they need to be recognised as such and included clearly in performance measures (though to be taken with, not instead of, a common core). It is important that both sides of the coin have been exposed in such an important formal review. One of Prof Wolf’s areas of expertise is labour

market analysis, the importance of which is all too often underplayed when considering education policy, and this underpins the report’s recommendations. Today’s vocational (and academic) education system must respond to five key labour market characteristics: • The large majority of young people carry on with some form of formal learning to age 18.

• There are few jobs available now for 16 and 17- year-olds.

• Employers value and reward employment experience, not just formal credentials.

• Good levels of English and mathematics continue to be the most generally useful and valuable vocational skills on offer; they are a necessary precondition for access to selective, demanding and desirable courses, whether these are “vocational” or “academic”.

• Young people change jobs very frequently, within a labour market which is also in constant flux. So

E CONTINUE to place far too many young people on vocational courses that are dead-ends – particularly students who need the greatest support in finding a path to success.

It is scandalous and it is immoral. It has been said

Where now?

students need general skills; and the educational system needs to respond quickly and flexibly to change.

Prof Wolf also rightly explains that our current

problems are systemic and thus we need radical reform covering four areas. First, give more students access to really high

quality vocational resources and teaching, and to proper workplace internships between 16 and 18 (it is a great pity however that she did not emphasise that shorter and more varied forms of “work inspiration” are essential replacements for the current statutory work-related learning at key stage 4). Second, make it easier for colleges to enrol students

and for schools to use qualified vocational teachers and professionals in their classrooms. Third, change the funding system so money

is tied to students, not individual qualifications, thus allowing schools and colleges to offer a more rounded curriculum and making it much easier for schools and colleges to collaborate in innovative ways.

Fourth, put far more emphasis on English and

maths, so that in future anyone who fails to achieve at least a C at GCSE in either subject must continue to study towards Level 2 (at present, unlike in most other European countries, this level is rarely achieved post-16). I strongly support all four. So the big issue for

me is how it is interpreted and implemented. And here there are two major risks. First, in the current climate, I doubt government will really step up to the very considerable challenge of achieving significant growth in apprenticeships and proper work experience post-16. The second risk stems from the ducking of the

issue of “parity of esteem”, and the purely pragmatic definition of vocational education (anything that is not a GCSE, IGCSE or IB). I do not like the phrase “parity of esteem”. We would

never talk about the importance of parity of esteem between road and rail travel for example, because people use different forms depending upon where they want to get to and their personal preferences.

Education is also a journey and the route and

method we take should depend upon where we want to get to and our personal preferences (which will vary at different stages of our working life). What is important is that all paths are high quality, get you to your desired destination, and that there is parity of access. As soon as we focus on the end point it becomes

obvious that there are many paths to success, and that all young people need to acquire appropriate knowledge, skills and attitudes – we all need to know how, as well as to know what and why. Only then can we have an intelligent conversation

about what should be core and what optional. Without this, although it is a very good report, I fear it will be used to cement rather than challenge the current destructive divide between academic and vocational, and to justify rather than change the English Baccalaureate.


• Andy Powell is an educationalist with expertise in vocational, practical and skills-based education. For a full analysis of the Wolf Report and Mr Powell’s blogs, go to

The Wolf Review: Here’s how we can help

The current pace of change is bewildering. The choices you have to make are highly complex. At Edexcel, we know that you need support right now.

How we can help you make informed decisions:

• regular updates available at • a full curriculum development service • countrywide events on Successful Curriculum Planning in a Changing Landscape

• our knowledge and expertise, to support you every step of the way.

At Edexcel, our aim remains the same: to help learners fulfil their potential whatever their educational needs and life goals.

For more information, go to or call 0844 576 0026.


SecEd • March 24 2011


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