The perfect education for a person
like me: vocational education and
the “ordinary”, the “overlooked”,
and the under-served 50%
Ann-Marie Bathmaker, Professor of
Vocational and Higher Education
The perfect education for a person
like me: vocational education and
the “ordinary”, the “overlooked”,
and the under-served 50%
Paper presented at Huddersfield
Conference on 27 June 2014
Ann-Marie Bathmaker
University of Birmingham
Hoodies: a sign of
being bad and
German youth: hoodies but not quite feral
Outstanding schools struggle to
fill headteacher jobs because
applicants ‘can’t spell’
26 January 2014
Emma Knights, chief executive of the National Governors
Association, told The Independent that some candidates
even spell the name of the school incorrectly.
Independent online
Golf Studies: a silly subject for a degree?
Born on the right side:
The Elstree-and-Borehamwood railway line
Borehamwood: home to Big Brother
the workingclass aristocracy
This is not my father, but the Open University TV
screen shot is about as thrilling as I remember it. My
father would sit in front of it for hours.
Newsom Report 1963: vocational
education for girls
The main groups of occupations most widely taken up
by girls - jobs in offices, in shops, in catering, work in
the clothing industry and other manufacturing trades can all provide the material for courses at more than
one level of ability. For all girls, too, there is a group of
interests relating to what many, perhaps most of them,
would regard as their most important vocational
concern, marriage. It is true that at the age of fourteen
and fifteen, this may appear chiefly as preoccupation
with personal appearance and boy friends, but many
girls are ready to respond to work relating to the
wider aspects of homemaking and family life and the
care and upbringing of children.
(Newsom, p.37 parag 113)
Crowther Report 1959: different types of mind
There is one type of mind which is readily attuned to
abstract thinking and can comprehend the meaning of a
generalisation. For these minds, the teacher can best
proceed by first expounding the principle and then
illustrating it, by teaching the rule and its exceptions, and
then setting the class to work on examples. This is (in the
main) the academic approach. But there are other minds
which cannot grasp the general except by way of the
particular, which cannot understand what is meant by
the rule until they have observed the examples. Some
minds are analytical; others can only build up.
(Crowther, 1959: 394, parag 573)
'Incentives for good behaviour.
At school: House points; stars for work and service; public
commendation after Assembly.
At home: a drink of shandy; staying up late; staying out late;
wearing make-up; having a hair-set; use of other people's
clothes; money; cigarettes.' Headmistress.
'Outside the very narrow range of their immediate
experience, their vocabulary was tragically poverty-stricken.‘
'The school's outstanding strength is its social achievement.
The girls are fluent and confident and entertained the visitors
with an easy grace which would have done credit to a
grammar school sixth form.'
Newsom Report, 1963, p.2
Crowther Report 1959:
a practical and vocational education
A boy may, however, have something still different
in mind when he speaks of a practical education. He
may want to use his hands and his mind not so
much to create as to invent. The boy with whom we
are concerned is one who has pride in his skill of
hand and a desire to use that skill to discover how
things work, to make them work and to make them
work better. The tradition to which he aspires to
belong is the modern one of the mechanical man
whose fingers are the questioning instruments of
thought and exploration. (392, parag 571)
Renewed focus on
vocational education:
Michael Gove, 2011
[…] under the last Government
practical and technical education
lost its way. And that is because,
despite all the rhetoric, their heart
wasn’t in it.
By heart I mean a passionate
understanding of, and commitment
to, the joy of technical
accomplishment, the beauty of
craft skills, and the submission to
vocational disciplines which lie at
the heart of a truly practical
for a long time our party has been focused on getting 50%
of young people into university. I believe that was right. But
now it’s time to put our focus on the forgotten 50% who do
not go to university.
Rediscovering the
forgotten 50%:
Ed Miliband, 2012
…who may be at risk of unemployment
What has happened in the last decade to the
‘other 50 per cent’ — the young adults who do
not go to university? Are they more at risk of
joining the ranks of the NEETS (those not in
education, employment or training) than in
previous years? How well are they being served
by the education system?
(Demos and the Private Equity Foundation Report, Birdwell et al, 2011: 17)
1959: Caught in the middle
“the boys and girls whose full-time schooldays end
at 15 or 16 – in any case long before they are 18 –
but who continue to spend a significant part of their
time in further education, training or instruction,
either full-time in an institution other than school
or […] part-time.”
A quarter of young people, caught between
academic stayers-on and the ones who leave for
The Crowther Report on 15-18 year olds (1959)
2014: part of the ‘crowded middle’
Around 40% of young people hovering above
and below a ‘C’ average GCSE score
who do not follow a 2 year A-level programme
In between those destined for HE and those in
apprenticeship or classified as NEET
(Hodgson and Spours, 2014; Skills Commission 2013: 17)
Why don’t they all just do A-levels?
So what IS vocational education?
What it is not:
NOT ‘academic’ education
NOT professional education
What it is:
pre-vocational preparation, general vocational
education, work-related learning, work-based
learning, higher vocational education (for
associated professionals and technicians)
Endless change to qualifications
Certificate of Further Education
Certificate in Pre-Vocational Education (CPVE)
Diploma in Vocational Education
BTEC First Certificates and BTEC Diplomas.
General National Vocational Qualifications (GNVQ)
Advanced Vocational Certificate in Education (AVCE)
Applied A level
14-19 Diploma
Applied general qualifications and tech levels
My research
Enactments of policy and lived experience of
this expansion of broad, general vocational
education, from school through to higher
Interactions of
biography and history
structure and agency
Research projects
PhD study on GNVQs: The perfect education for a person like me
The FurtherHigher Project: ‘College for all’ through HE in FE in England
The Paired Peers Project: HE and social mobility - Classed experiences
of higher education in an elite and a post-1992 university
University Technical Colleges: a working-class, vocational pathway
from 14 onwards?
Becoming a teacher in further education
Knowledge in vocational education project: Curriculum: knowledge,
teaching, learning and assessment
Ordinary kids: unspectacular and invisible
Ordinary lives do not provide enough spectacle to gain our
attention. The route to visibility: Big Brother house
1990s: GNVQ - the perfect education
Well, they give you more help with the work, tell
you about the work when you’re doing it, stuff
like that, so it helps us out. And it helps them
out because we complete the work on time you
see. And we get respect from the teachers.
(Chris, GNVQ Foundation student, Bathmaker, 2002: 258)
Getting through
Come in say June, you’ll see all of them in the
library, just coming to the desks, and trying to
do their work, trying to tell the next man, “here
man, I’m trying to write” or grabbing every chair.
Teachers go “The rush is in. The rush is in! An
no-one’s done their assignment this year, not
even one.
(Waqas, Advanced Business GNVQ, Bathmaker, 2002: 271)
But not necessarily getting on
AMB: Are there bad things about GNVQ?
Ajit: It’s just how it’s rated in the public eye,
it’s like GNVQ, from a teacher’s point of
view, Uni people, like Uni lecturers, they
don’t really approve of GNVQ, they think
the A-level way is the proper way to go
about it.
(Ajit, Advanced Business GNVQ, Bathmaker, 2002: 267)
2000s: Idealised futures through expanded HE
Gaining ‘educational capital’ for future employment
in Sports Therapy:
With the build up to the 2012 London Olympics,
and concern over the health of the nation, Sport is
playing an increasingly important role in society and
in people’s leisure times. There is increasing
demand for the skills provided by this new
From Newcastle College’s website:
Accessed 25 April 2008.
Realised futures
Sports therapists primarily will be self-employed
initially. You know, this is an industry whereby there is a
lot of work but not a lot of jobs. If you’re asking me
“are there a load of jobs?” as in being employed…. if
you look at any of your papers you won’t find a big
section for sports therapy jobs, it’s too new. However,
the potential of work is huge, absolutely huge.
Yvonne Tainton (programme leader, sports therapy, FurtherHigher project,
2006, AYS001: 1)
Realised futures
A guy came in last week from the Society of Sports
Therapists and he said trying to get in with a football
team is horrendous, he said there’s 40,000 clients
registered with the FA ... that’s a lot but they’re not all
of them going to be willing to pay us money and that’s
what we want. So his response really wasn’t that great
with regards to looking for a job. And I think the basic
thing is we need to get basic skills, you know, we need
to go and do different courses on top of our degree
which isn’t very helpful when you’re in lots of debt and
have got to pay hundreds of pounds to go on a two day
Carol, Sports Therapy Y3 student, FurtherHigher project (09/3: 29)
2010s: Wanting to be someone
I was quite… I was quite happy, I was like…
because most of the teachers in most schools
have said I’m never going to amount to nothing.
Or get anywhere. But now I’m sitting in one of
the biggest Engineering schools in England.
(Student in UTC project, 2014)
2010s: UTCs - a second chance?
What do you want to do at the end of year 11?
Hopefully get an apprenticeship, then get a job,
just settle down
And will here help you get an apprenticeship,
will they help with that?
Yeah, they will. All the teachers that have taught
me in the workshop have said, “I’m gonna give
the people who come in your name and tell
them to watch you”, so I reckon I’ll definitely be
able to get one.
(Student in UTC B, 2014)
Not always the perfect education
And, what about the construction?
Oh, um, I’m not allowed to… I’m only allowed to do 10 minutes
of woodwork.
Cos er, the other day, like last week, I got a hammer and then I
went like that (points pretend hammer), and used it as a gun to
pretend and then, now I’m only allowed 10 minutes a day.
I never got excluded at my old school and I was much worse, and
I’ve been excluded a lot here.
How many times have you been excluded?
Er, I think it was like seven times when I was speaking to Miss B,
but that was like a few weeks ago. I haven’t been excluded since.
(Student in UTC D - A14, 2014)
Ending up no further than where you started
This route stops here
Just park here until something comes along
The diversity/diversion dilemma in
vocational education
Social structures
illusions of modern times, of society becoming fairer while consistently
failing to deliver a more open society (Ken Roberts, 2011)
rhetoric of equality and freedom intensifies while sociologists
document ever-deepening inequalities (Bates and Riseborough, 1993)
Social experience
Wanting to be someone (Bathmaker, 2002)
‘I’ll be a nothing’ (Reay and Wiliam, 1999)
The perfect education for a person like me (Bates, 1993; Bathmaker,
(Das Boot, 1981)
Diversity or diversion?
The challenge of both diversity and
Heroic policy
Policy enactments
Policy reforms need to be informed by critical research, not
just by “what works”: a big mountain to climb, but a
significant endeavour
Thank you
The perfect education for a person
like me: vocational education and
the “ordinary”, the “overlooked”,
and the under-served 50%
Ann-Marie Bathmaker
Professor of Vocational and Higher

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