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Directly related to employment, usually in a specified sector or trade. Education is referred to as vocational if it involves skills training or if it prepares the learner to enter directly into skilled or semi‐skilled employment. This is to distinguish it from academic or general education, such as Advanced Level and General Certificate of Secondary Education; and from general vocational education, of the type offered by the General National Vocational Qualification in the 1990s, which is designed to equip learners with a transferable set of skills necessary for entering the world of work across a broad sector of employment. Therefore, we can broadly map two kinds of education: education for the development of the individual, which is known as general, liberal, or academic, and education for work, now termed vocational or skills training. Research suggests that vocational qualifications are, on the whole, still accorded rather less esteem than general, academic ones, despite the introduction of equivalence levels, as set out in the National Qualifications Framework. The distinction between vocational and academic education is sometimes referred to as the vocational–academic divide, to denote the difference in status between the two. The reasons for this lack of parity are largely historical.

In the 18th and early 19th centuries, education beyond a very basic level was accessed by an elite which was mostly male, and its purpose was to produce the cultured gentleman. With the growth of industries there came the recognition that a range of knowledge beyond the gentleman's education in Latin and Greek would be essential to the country's industrial progress, but it was considered that an education of this sort was only suitable for those who must take paid employment. As a consequence, what was referred to as ‘useful’ knowledge became associated with trade and the artisan class. Thus, a classical education, also referred to as a liberal education in the sense of broad and life‐enhancing, remained associated with an elite; while, in contrast, a scientific or vocational education was considered to be narrower in purpose, equipping the learner only with the skills to earn their living. Despite successive governments' policy statements from the 1980s to the present day stressing the need for parity of esteem between the two, the vocational–academic divide is still apparent, for example in the disparity of pay and status between teachers in the further education sector and those in schools. A further distinction related to the divide is that between ‘training’ and ‘education’, with ‘training’ more usually associated with the vocational curriculum. Definitions of the two, as well as the contexts in which they are used, tend to reinforce the view that training is concerned with a lower order of skills and knowledge. An extreme example would be that we speak of ‘animal training’ rather than ‘animal education’. However, an education and training which leads to professional qualifications in medicine, law, and the Church, while still spoken of as ‘vocational’ (in the sense that those entering these professions are said to have a vocation for them), is accorded high, rather than low, status. No doubt the operational word here is ‘professional’, but it is also significant that all three of these ‘vocational’ training routes have traditionally involved a substantial degree of classical learning—a knowledge of Latin, for example—originally associated with a high‐status education.


Subjects: Social sciencesEducation

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