Sir Mike Tomlinson lecture

Sir Mike Tomlinson, chair of the working group on 14-19 reform that led to the 2003 Tomlinson Report, came to NTU today to give the RSA Shipley Lecture. This year the lecture was also a memorial to former NTU and RSA stalwart Anne Bloomfield. The subject, dear to her heart and to Sir Mike’s, was “Vocational education should be a rounded education“.

With the backdrop of the history of attempted introductions of vocational education (the 1944 Butler Education Act with its tripartite system, TVEI, GNVQs, Curriculum 2000 and Diplomas), Tomlinson argued for the move away from debates about ‘parity of esteem’ towards a view of the ‘credibility and value’ of qualifications. Echoes here of the value and validity arguments of Monday’s seminar at Cambridge.

It was also notable that the lecture included issues of how ‘true’ vocational education must have

  • relevance to 16-year olds (face validity),
  • a knowledge base that is used in, and applied to, occupational areas – however broadly drawn (validty determined by use, not by the test itself)
  • a theoretical content balanced with sector-based skills (content validity)

Again this echoes with Monday. Another thread running through was the role of assessment (systems) in undermining the vocational educational initiatives – TVEI assessment becoming ‘traditional’, GNVQ assessment being changed to equate to GCSE/A level, key skills being decoupled from GNVQs, Curriculum 2000’s insistence on equal numbers of units per qualification with a convergence of assessment types.

Also mentioned, although not in the same sense of ‘undermining’ was the persistence of the BTEC model and the way that NVQs were never envisaged to be other than accreditation mechanisms for on the job training.

The BTEC model of occupational credibility and general education was the model that was paramount in the description of vocational education with the caveat ‘what is general education’?

Throughout I was wondering where ICT fits into all this. Never mentioned as a ‘subject’ nor even as a ‘skill’ it was conspicuous by its absence. It is, of course, present in the specialised diplomas and as a functional skill although the former may be bedevilled by the wide diversity of the sector it is serving, I fear.

Tomlinson was upbeat about the Diplomas but focused especially on the need to get a true progression from level 1 through to 3. The custom of level 1 being what you get if you fail level 2 (GCSE grades D-G rather than A*-C) must not be repeated he urged. Also the need to get level 2 threshold systems so that learners who do not reach that threshold at , I would say the magical (and arbitrary, age of 16 could do so by subsequent credit points accumulation – rather than ‘repeating GCSEs’, a model that doesn’t serve well, he argued.

Another hour of useful insights.

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