17 August 2012

Vocational training in schools

Yesterday the CIPD published an article on their site about a call for an alternative to A-Levels following recent results.  I posted a comment which they moderated (edited for length) but I feel they lost the link between the first two paragraphs they published, below if the full comment:

During the Olympics I saw a number of people questioning why a disproportionate number of Team GB and, in particular, Team GB medal winners were former Independant school kids. This reminded me of my own school days.  From age 10 to 14 I attended an Independent school on a scholarship.  when that school went bust I returned to the state school system attending a Secondary Modern.

At the Secondary Modern the school day ran from 09:00 to 15:30 with a 10 minute break mid-morning and an hour for lunch either 12:00 to 13:00 or 13:00 to 14:00.  The only sports were one hour of PE a week for half the year (the school didn't have the facilities for a whole year group to do PE at the same time).  The choice was Soccer or 10 pin bowling for the boys and netball or ten pin bowling for the girls.  The only vocational training was art, woodwork, typing (which was only open to girls, although I landed up doing it due to having Dyspraxia) and child care (again, girls only).

At the Independent school the school day ran from 08:30 to 17:30 with a 15 minute break at 10:30 and an hour for lunch at 13:00, 4 days a week (Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday), 2 days a week (Wednesday and Saturday) it ran, with the same breaks from 08:30 to between 16:00 and 17:00.  In terms of academic lessons we probably did a little more than a state school but not much.  The bulk of the extra time was taken up by sports (upto 11 hours a week), Combined Cadet Force (CCF, boys only) and vocational studies (all boys did at least 3 hours of woodwork a week and 3 hours of art/craft (which could include cookery, although in my time there only 3 boys (including myself) took the option); all girls did at least 3 hours of Cookery, 2 hours of typing (whilst the boys were doing CCF) and 3 hours of art/craft (which could include woodwork although in my time there only one girl actually took the option that I know of) a week).  Additionally there were compulsory hobby clubs for 2 hours every Thursday (during which boys could take typing, although in my time there I was the only one to take the option).  I understand that this was fairly common in the Independent sector.

Is it any wonder that Independent schools turn out more Olympians and people with more rounded skill sets?

Based on my experience I think we should look to extend the school day, certainly in Secondary schools, keeping the academic hours basically the same and filling the extra hours with more sports and vocational studies.  Eleven hours of sports a week is, perhaps, excessive for most pupils but 5 or 6 hours a week would allow for a greater variety of sports to be tried and fitness to be improved.  Offering a variety of vocational studies, along side the academics, from the start of secondary would give all pupils (even those who eventually go the academic route) a firm grounding in useful work skills and allow those who prefer vocational to academic work to get a taste of the options.  Some time could also be allocated to developing cross subject skills such as debate, study skills, critical thinking, time and priority management, project management, basic finance &c.

The main thing from my experience that I would seek to avoid having repeated would be the gender divide in subjects.  Girls should learn at least the fundementals of woodwork and/or engineering and try Soccer and/or Rugby.  Boys should learn at least the fundementals of typing (or rather it's modern equivalents) and/or cookery and try netball and/or hockey.  If CCF (or similar) is on offer then it should be open to both genders.

If I'd won that £148million on the Euro lottery last week I'd be looking to set up a Free School based on just those aims.
Of course, another advantage of the longer school day is that parents don't have to scabble to get into work after doing the school run only to leave pretty much straight after lunch to pick the kids up again.

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