Vocational education – Clare Jarmy in TES

Posted on 06th June 2017

In March, the government announced that 13,000 courses currently running nationwide would be replaced with 15 vocational routes in specific career areas. In an article for TES (subscription required), Clare Jarmy challenges the way in which we talk about such education, and argues that there is more to the concept of vocation than job-training, and it’s not just for some students: it’s for everybody.

The word vocation comes from the Latin vocare – ‘to call’ – and suggests work that is special and particular to you, not just a training route to a job. Vocation is about work in which you flourish and become the best version of yourself. Clare says: “A vocation, then, is two things: it is work in which you in particular can contribute something, and it also leads to personal fulfilment and happiness; it is self-realisation. These are noble aims for education, and they are aims we should have for all our students, not just some.”

Received wisdom has it that academic routes cannot be vocational, as they do not (supposedly) lead directly towards a line of work. Yet there are many academic routes doing just that. Degrees in law and medicine, offered at even the most academic institutions, fit that bill. And what about those academic subjects that don’t lead to a job? Are we to believe that Mary Beard doesn’t have a vocation to lecture in Classics, or that Francis Collins didn’t have a vocation to sequence the human genome? Academic education can be vocational, and on the other side of the coin there is no intrinsic reason why an education that prepares someone for work should be less fulfilling than a more purely academic route.

Philosopher of education Roger Marples argues that too often vocational education fails to raise the expectations of students, with courses on offer extending no further than ways of life already known to the student. It is for this reason that educationalist Michael Young advocates a broad academic curriculum for all. He argues that enabling students from all walks of life to access “powerful knowledge” ensures they won’t be confined by their background or their own imagination, and opportunities will be opened up to them.

Clare concludes: “Education should draw all our students out of their own expectations of themselves, out of their own experiences, and out of the expectations made of them through their background. It should allow them to seek work they feel drawn to, and it should allow them to flourish. Let’s make flourishing the aim for all our students, and let’s always be asking ourselves whether the courses we offer live up to that challenge.”

Clare Jarmy’s articles in TES | Clare Jarmy | Mary Beard | Francis Collins