A new report highlights the complex task of the vocational teacher and offers important evidence for why FE needs a vocational pedagogy, says Charlynne Pullen

This is a critical time for the UK economy. As it begins to recover, there will be a greater need for skilled individuals, and vocational education has a clear role to play.  But for years, vocational education has been derided or ignored, quality has been questioned, and funding cut.

We believe vocational education needs to be high-status and valued, and for that, we need high quality teaching. Matthew Hancock, Minister for Skills, agrees. In his speech to the Association of Colleges’ conference on November 20 last year, he said: “There is no reason set in stone why technical education should not be seen as on a par with or even more virtuous than university… It will come only when teaching in FE is uniformly high quality… Outstanding education is the route to outstanding acclaim.”

Industries such as care and retail will grow this century; we must better value both as at present low skills, low pay and low status are endemic in both.

People working in these and other vocational sectors need the routine expertise to deal with everyday problems; the resourcefulness to solve trickier problems; the functional literacies to explain their solutions to customers; the business-like attitudes to do so in a way that values the customer; the craftsman’s desire to do a job well; and the wider skills for growth to innovate for future solutions.

These six outcomes of vocational education are set out in ‘How to teach vocational education: A theory of vocational pedagogy’, a newly published research report (written by Professors Bill Lucas, Guy Claxton and Dr Ellen Spencer at the Centre for Real World Learning at the University of Winchester) from the City & Guilds Centre for Skills Development.

We argue that these outcomes are what employers and customers value. If employers value these outcomes, and demand better skilled individuals who have acquired them, then it is on this basis that an economy can grow. So how do we get there?

Clearly, high quality teaching is key.  However, we believe that the role of vocational pedagogy in attaining that quality has been underestimated. The report highlights the complex task of the vocational teacher and offers important evidence for why we need a vocational pedagogy.

Low skills, low pay and low status are endemic in both the care and retail industries”

It also offers a model for vocational teaching that we believe practitioners will find useful, but there are elements which need to be discussed.

For example, if a vocational teacher needs to think carefully about the kind of teaching he or she can use in a workshop versus a classroom, what happens in a workplace?

How can vocational teachers, or indeed those without training in teaching, provide support to learners in a workplace, and what training is needed to support that? What about the role of the assessor?

Previously, the learning and skills sector has talked about the need for a vocational pedagogy but struggled to develop one that everyone agrees to. We believe our outcomes clearly set out what vocational education is for, and offers a framework. Now it’s time to discuss how we can develop a vocational pedagogy that is owned by the sector, rather than one that’s borrowed from general education.

To find out more about the project or to download a copy of the report, visit www.skillsdevelopment.org

Charlynne Pullen is a senior researcher at the City & Guilds Centre for Skills Development