Edge Foundation: vocational learning discouraged by parents and teachers

Teachers and parents actively discourage pupils from pursuing a vocational education by telling them they are “too clever” for hands-on subjects, new research has revealed.

Just a quarter of parents believe that vocational education is worthwhile, the survey found, with the majority of schools also actively discouraging young people from pursuing technical qualifications.

The study, commissioned by the Edge Foundation, found that just 27 per cent of the young people surveyed said that their parents deemed vocational education to be “worthwhile”, with many taking the view that their children were “too clever” for practical qualifications.

Jan Hodges, Edge’s chief executive, said the “stigma” attached to vocational learning was “old-fashioned and unjust”.

Of the 2,000 young people surveyed, half had opted for a vocational education, with the others taking a wholly academic route. The research uncovered a gulf between the experiences of the two groups.

Over a third (36 per cent) of students who pursued a vocational route were advised by school that they would be “more successful” if they chose the academic pathway, while almost a quarter (22 per cent) were told that they were “too clever” for vocational education.

One in seven (14 per cent) of the vocational learners were told by their school that they would make more money by pursuing an academic education.

Stewart Segal, chief executive of the Association of Employment and Learning Providers, said that the results highlighted the need for greater investment in the FE sector.

While two-thirds (65 per cent) of the academic group said they felt their school supported their choice, only a third (35 per cent) of the vocational group could say the same.

Three-quarters (74 per cent) of parents supported their child’s decision to pursue an academic route, compared to 51 per cent of parents whose children took vocational subjects. Some 44 per cent of the young people surveyed said that their parents had been their biggest influence in deciding their career path.

However, both groups reported negligible differences in terms of their later job satisfaction, career choice and success.

“It is disappointing that so few parents and teachers see vocational education as being worthwhile, when in fact both routes result in similar levels of happiness, job satisfaction and financial gain,” Ms Hodges said.

“The stigma attached to vocational learning is old-fashioned and unjust. A skilled workforce is essential to the UK economy and high-quality vocational routes need to be available and encouraged.”

Mr Segal said that the research “confirms that we have yet to get the balance right in terms of public investment between academic and vocational education”.

“Traineeships and apprenticeships are now offering high-quality routes into successful careers and, if we can expand the number of young people participating in these programmes, their prospects will improve and the economy will also benefit,” he added.