Sir Michael backs shift to boost vocational education

Ofsted’s boss has called on schools to form “clusters” allowing pupils to move between institutions at 14 to boost vocational education.

Sir Michael Wilshaw (pictured) told business leaders at the CBI conference on Tuesday that he wants clusters to join forces with local business networks, such as chambers of commerce, to identify specific industries in the local area that needed specialist training.

His comments that there needs to be a “fundamental” shift in attitudes and educational structures have been welcomed by the Edge Foundation, a charity that aims to raise the profile of technical, practical and vocational learning.

Director of policy and research David Harbourne said: “He is entirely right to start asking these questions.

“Business leaders have already been saying it should be about 14 to 18 education and this is one step further to achieving clusters in schools.”

He said it would benefit STEM subjects – science, engineering, technology and maths – but could also work in local areas where there were creative industries.

“Local enterprise partnerships (LEPs) should be the driving force. The educational system isn’t planned in the way it used to be and the LEPs are key in identifying areas of need.”

Sir Michael told the conference: “We don’t need to start from scratch but we do need to build on the pioneering work done by some schools and colleges.

“And wouldn’t it be good if at least one of the schools in the cluster had particularly strong vocational provision from 14, perhaps in a UTC or specialist college?

“Young people could then transfer across institutions in the cluster to provide a route to high-level academic or vocational study. Pupils at all the schools in the cluster would have access to high-quality vocational training from 14, including those who are typically deemed ‘academic high achievers’.

“Students on either path would be free to access the specialist teaching available in the other and would not be stuck in one route. Let me stress this isn’t about selection at 14 – it’s about maximum opportunity at 14.”

Sir Michael also used his speech to defend a Bradford headteacher’s decision to send 150 pupils home from school for breaching uniform policy.

“She was attacked by some for being petty. Let me tell you – I don’t believe that she was.

“What she was doing was reinforcing to her pupils and to their parents that all successful organisations require rules and that if children, especially children who lack structure and discipline at home, are to succeed in school and in work they have to respect them. It was, in essence, a lesson in how to be employable.”


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  1. Sir Michael is chief HMI not Education Secretary. Using his role to make public statements (rather than in a private capacity) about how education is structured and whether children should decide between academic and vocational at 14 is beyond his remit. His suggestion for children to specialise at 14 contradicts his post Trojan Horse comments that all children should receive a broad, balanced education.