Classroom practice - To teach know-how, know how to teach

The subject of vocational pedagogy has been sorely neglected for far too long. Now it’s time for practitioners to lead the debate

In almost 500 years of formal vocational education, it seems as though the conversation about vocational pedagogy has never really happened.

Admittedly, there have been pockets of research - Germany and Switzerland are routinely held up as exemplars of apprenticeship success, and academic work exploring the Australian vocational education and training system has recently emerged - but these are exceptions rather than the rule.

It is an oversight that is increasingly being highlighted by high-profile figures. In her Review of Vocational Education, published in 2011, Professor Alison Wolf asserted that many young people in England were on courses that provided little realistic chance of progression towards work or higher study. She added that the vocational education on offer to 14- to 19-year-olds was “not good enough”.

This sentiment was shared by James Calleja, director of Cedefop, the European Centre for the Development of Vocational Training. He told TES recently that adult education was failing because “too often it is assumed that if [teachers] have got the skills from doing the job themselves they can step up and teach others…but everyone benefits from proper, structured teaching and learning” (“EU chief complains that those who can’t, teach adults”, 17 January).

But is anyone listening? Will anything come of these warnings? To answer that question, we must first ask why the concept of vocational pedagogy has so rarely been discussed.

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