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FE focus Further education focus

Academic or vocational? Dr Kate Reynolds, Dean of the School of Education at Bath Spa University, believes it is all about continual learning.

Continual learning

As universities are urged to consider accepting increasing numbers of students with a range of qualifications, it is interesting to think about the continuous ‘academic vs. vocational’ debate and which route into teaching is best. In my mind, there is no debate; both are excellent routes to a career in teaching and should be used in collaboration with one another. Vocational skills give a student high levels of practical knowledge, while an academic approach will equip them with the knowledge, insight and theory they will need.

Vocational skills are hugely valuable. They should be recognised by employers and not seen as second class qualifications. Academic skills alone are not enough to provide a student with all the tools for their future career. This tired debate needs to end and we should appreciate that both vocational and academic paths are important. Both routes will have their advantages and disadvantages, but a combination of both provides the most balanced and consolidated learning.

Students should therefore remember that by choosing to study a degree at university, they will not necessarily lose the benefits that vocational training has to offer. The two should be offered hand in hand, to give students the opportunity to benefit from both sets of skills. Whether it be training in your job or studying at university, I am a strong believer that a person never stops learning, we should all be striving to be the best we can.

Choosing the right approach for you

If we draw a line too heavily between the two methods, then we will lose sight of the main objective, which is to educate young people to be fully equipped for the career ahead of them. There has been an encouraging increase in sandwich degree courses which offer a year in industry, because it is now widely understood that by adding practical and ‘on-the-job’ elements to certain degrees, it can help students become more employable. Teaching is a great example of the success of mixing vocational and academic learning. There are lots of different courses and options available to prospective teachers and many of them offer a structure which means students spend two thirds of their time learning in a school and the other third studying.

Information about the different routes into teaching is available from the Department for Education (DFE) website, which has information about the training options and funding available to prospective teachers. If you are considering a PGCE qualification I advise looking at prospective university websites as you need to ensure you will fit with the university as well as the qualification. With interest in teaching rising universities are able to be more selective about which students they admit, so it is even more important that prospective teachers thoroughly research the options available to them and make appropriate decisions.

There are many factors to consider when deciding which course or training is right for you, including location, plans for the future and existing experience. A Postgraduate Certificate in Education (PGCE) with Qualified Teacher Status is designed in such a way that through each assignment the student develops an understanding of the relationship between teaching and learning. A PGCE also gives students access to specific tuition from academic university staff and balances this with first hand experience in schools. So you get a good mix of both academic and vocational experiences. The Schools Direct scheme is an alternative route into teaching that works in collaboration with schools in local areas across England and students are supported by experienced teachers. This route is a good option for students who know exactly where they want to teach, as the recruitment process means that individual schools are recruiting for themselves. A PGCE however gives students much more flexibility, as it doesn’t tie a student to one particular school. It is also a good option for gaining access to wider academic networks throughout the university and for networking with other teacher trainees.


Another route is with the education charity Teach First, which takes high achieving graduates and places them in schools in low income communities. At Bath Spa University we work in partnership with Teach First and the University of Bristol to train and support people with leadership potential to become inspirational teachers in schools in Bristol, Gloucester and Swindon. If you are an experienced, but unqualified teacher with a degree, you can apply for a place on the Assessment Only (AO) route to Qualified Teacher Status (QTS). You will need to demonstrate, through collecting evidence during a three month assessment period, that you can successfully meet the standards for QTS without the need for any further training. You will usually be required to have made arrangements with a supporting school who will offer you a full teaching timetable for the three month period prior to your application.

Alternatively the ‘Troops to Teachers’ scheme, funded by the Department for Education, provides a route into teaching for Service Leaders who are leaving the military.

At Bath Spa University, we offer all routes into teaching and all of our courses have the same structure, which allows students to spend two thirds of their time in school and one third studying at university.

Opening doors

Teaching is a challenging yet rewarding career and at Bath Spa University we aim to provide students with the support and guidance to help them become outstanding teachers. With the government pushing for higher calibre teachers and encouraging students to specialise in Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) subjects, prospective teachers need to understand which path into education is appropriate for them. Teaching can open many doors, with transferable skills such as relationship building and the ability to deal with a range of different groups with different needs. Furthermore becoming a teacher is not the only career within education on offer. Students can also go on to work in a range of different education jobs in schools and multi-academy trusts, within local authorities or in careers such as educational social work or psychology. I am passionate about the work I do, and feel enthusiastic that our provision for education at Bath Spa University will continue to grow. We have a high success rate of teachers being awarded with ‘outstanding’ qualifications and with an increasing demand for school places and teachers in the South West, we’re confident our courses offer good employment opportunities.

We are educating the future educators and we want to achieve this by supporting our students and providing them with a solid basis of both vocational and academic skills, which will enable them to become well rounded, fully prepared and ultimately outstanding teachers.

June 2014

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