In this blog from OCR's Agenda magazine, Paul Steer, OCR’s Head of Policy, explores what’s in a name.
At this year’s Conservative Party Conference, Justine Greening declared she wanted to make technical education an absolute priority. This has to be good news – it is refreshing to have a Secretary of State for Education prepared to give so much attention to courses that don’t necessarily lead to GCSEs or A Levels.
Ms Greening used the phrase ‘technical’ five times in what was a very short speech and one that had to cover a lot of ground. ‘Technical’ seems to be the new word for ‘vocational’. The Edge Foundation, a charitable body tasked with promoting vocational education, now says on its website: ‘We are dedicated to raising the status of technical, practical and professional learning’. The term ‘technical’ has been brought to the fore by the recent review of technical education conducted by an expert panel chaired by Lord Sainsbury which has recommended a radical reorganising of training and qualifications into 15 routes, and a different approach to the structure of the market for qualifications. Apparently Robert Halfon, the Skills Minister, also said he much prefers the term technical to vocational. So what has happened to the ‘V’ word? Has it become like Voldemort in the Harry Potter books known as ‘He-who-must-not-be-named’? Is this a rebrand?
To some extent, it probably is. The term vocational has been around so long its meaning is almost lost. It has been the butt of so many reforms that it is almost embarrassing for a government to have another go at reforming vocational education. Besides which, ‘technical’ has a certain aura of rigour about it – if something’s ‘a bit technical’, it’s difficult to understand, isn’t it?
When OCR submitted evidence to the Wolf inquiry into vocational education, we recommended creating a ‘taxonomy’ of vocational qualifications. We recognised that navigating the complex landscape of vocational qualifications would always be difficult unless they could be categorised in useful ways which identified their purpose and target audience. Something along these lines emerged in Professor Wolf’s recommendations and eventually in government policy.
The DfE now organises vocational qualifications into four categories. In order to be recognised by the DfE for performance measures, qualifications have to have certain features which vary across the categories but include having a clear purpose, progression routes, a substantial examined component and recognition from HE and employers. The categories are: