The King and I

The King and I

When the King recently appeared on the popular TV show The Repair Shop – recorded when he was still the Prince of Wales – he lamented the lack of vocational education in schools.

And I agree with him and have been banging this drum for years.

I hope because it is Charles III saying it, that changes will be made.

And I believe there is a chance of things going in the right direction because Nick Gibb is back as Schools Standards Minister – someone who the department just can’t seem to do without.

Every time he is replaced, he quickly returns – because he is well-informed and understands our education system and has helped greatly improve it over the last 12 years.

What the King identified was that vocational and practical skills have not been valued as much as academic qualifications.

When an Oxford University don with six degrees in ancient languages breaks down in his car, it is a skilled mechanic who enables him to continue his journey.

The don’s ability to decipher hieroglyphics and the mechanic’s ability to identify a problem in a complicated combustion engine and put it right ought to be equally valued.

The King is right.

I would like to see the education system adjusted so that children at 14 can pursue a more vocational route or an academic one.

It is too late to do this at 16.

It should be clear from an educational perspective by now that the great university experiment is not working.

We need to train around 70 per cent of those who will join the workforce in practical and vocational skills. And value them as much as we do academics.

That we value these things differently has resulted in 50 per cent going to universities.

Degrees have become less rigorous and academic standards have been compromised.

This kind of education – writing essays and paper-based analysis – only suits around 30 per cent of children.

Germany only sends about 30 per cent of its youngsters to university and look how successful its economy is.

Those in vocational and technical employment are highly skilled and educated in their field.

I once talked to a hairdresser from Germany about his experience with their system of vocational training and he said it was excellent.

After the many courses and qualifications, he had taken he regarded himself as a professional and was proud to declare it.

He did not regard himself as second-rate because he had not gone to university.

This hierarchy has been encouraged by politicians who have too long pushed for an expansion of the university sector.

In another sign that things are going in the right direction, the government is considering reducing the number of exams at 16.

I would only like the number reduced for those who are finding the academic route too difficult.

For those who are academically able, it is fine for them to pursue a whole range of subjects.

It is when it becomes more academically challenging for others that the number should be reduced. Again the 70/30 per cent split should apply.

Continuing with mathematics and English up to 18 is also a good idea that has been put forward.

But it must focus on the practical use of mathematics and English in a vocational setting for those who do not have a penchant for academic study.

We should leave Shakespeare and Chaucer for those who are going to push forward in their academic pursuits in a literary way and focus on the day-to-day practical use of English – improving grammar, syntax, punctuation and spelling and day-to-day communication skills.

Similarly, in mathematics, calculus and difficult algebra should be left to those who are going to excel in high-level numeracy skills.

There should be a focus for the majority on good arithmetic and the ability to calculate effectively.

Schools must also be encouraged not to perpetuate the idea that academic qualifications are somehow better or more worthy than practical skills.

All teachers have gone to university and during their training, this must be made clear.

After all, who repairs their cars when they break down? Probably the child in their class who wasn’t considered academically bright, but has other talents that show they are just as clever in other ways.