Skip to content

Blog post

Rhetoric in Vocationalism

Tara Furlong

The BERA SIG: Post-Compulsory Education and Lifelong Learning has held a number of runs of events in the last year or two and I’ve enjoyed being able to make a small number of the London ones. The most recent on the 17th July 2015 from Vocationalism: Past, Present and Future was an intense day comprised of ten compact presentations with round-table discussions, including international perspectives of participants from universities in Australia and France, and the global WorldSkills initiative. Diverse theoretical frameworks of andragogy and associated contemporary issues were explored prioritising conceptualising knowledge and experience in vocational practice. Policy and institutional critiques discussed functionality and complex skill development. Overall tensions included those between vocational and academic; broad and transferable versus situated curricula; judgments of social value and flexibility; and developing professionalism.

In brief, Anna Mazenod, Université Paris-Dauphine (currently undertaking studies at the UCL Institute of Education) presented Vocationalism and Academic Drift – the conflict at the heart of apprenticeship policy which is based on comparative case study across policy and provision in England, Finland and France. Mazenod queries curricula which delineate completion of tasks to specification and overlook ‘professionalism’, emphasising the need for workplace learning.

Norman Crowther, Association of Teachers and Lecturers and Norman Lucas, UCL Institute of Education, followed on with Understanding the FE Sector as a Strategic Action Field and argue that ‘unorganised social space’ critical to implementation remains in stakeholder negotiations and settlement in respect of teaching and learning, curricula and professionalism and their strategic role in provision.

Erica Smith, Federation University Australia, interrogates apparent value-judgments in funding hegemony in When is a job considered an ‘occupation’ and what effect do these assumptions have on training? and finds augmenting the range of provision has met with challenges in developing curricula and schema of underpinning knowledge, impinging on the quality of private training providers, which in turn has impacted upon the prestige of the new traineeships.

Jim Hordern, School of Education Bath Spa University, presented on Differentiating vocational knowledge elucidating the importance of coherent underpinning theoretical knowledge frameworks from ‘pure disciplines’ being appropriately recontextualised to the detail of vocational practice and applied problem solving across scenarios thereby reconstituting both applied knowledge and practices as a specialist field; and vice versa. 

Matt O’Leary and Rob Smith, University of Wolverhampton, presented Vocational pedagogy, policy anxiety, discourse & practitioners and reported on findings that reflective practice served the purpose of generating applied horizontal knowledge from vertical specialist knowledge frameworks in the context of teachers’ situated learning; and the conflict with institutional policies and activity. 

Janet Hobley, Oxford Brookes University, presented Vocational pedagogies: The science of teaching or the teaching of science? arguing for teachers’ capacity to recontextualise between vertical and horizontal knowledge, particularly in subject specialist pedagogies such as science and maths within VET, such that learners draw on and utilise transferring explicit meaning structures across problem-solving in their practice.  

Tara Furlong, Designing Futures (currently undertaking studies at the UCL Institute of Education), followed on with Client Care and Professional Communication: implications for vocational and professional adult education analysing client communications in the legal domain to generate business generic curricula in professional and vocational communication. These pedagogical meta-findings support the development of ‘discursive competence’ as a component of ‘professional expertise’.  

Tony Leach, York St John University, presented Vocationalism in the 21st Century: graduates’ experiences of employment and career enactment in a neoliberal environment illustrating the construction of neoliberal employment markets and protean models of human transferable knowledge, skills and abilities packages; and the role for VET.

Dr Sally Messenger, Director, WorldSkills UK Legacy Projects, concluded the day with Global Vocational Standards and Assessment for Excellence discussing the value of research-underpinned international WorldSkills competitions to developing and driving improvement in international standards and best practices in vocational excellence: looking beyond technical specifications to communication, innovation, creativity, problem-solving and work organisation/self-management, found to be critical to competitive performance with motivational commitment factors, and belief in themselves, rating highest.

More detail is here for those interested. Last year held a run on Policy, Pedagogy and Research to celebrate BERA’s 40th Anniversary, and I attended a wonderfully broad session by Ken Spours, Ann Hodgson and Peter Jarvis expanded on here. It was worth attending for the expertise of their rhetoric and rich educational value of passionately selective detail.