Children labelled 'too clever' for vocational education

5th February 2014

Schools and families wrongly assume academic routes always lead to greater success and fulfillment than vocational education

Many young people are being actively discouraged from opting for vocational education - with just a quarter of parents (27%) judging it to be worthwhile*.

This is despite evidence that people who choose a practical, hands-on approach to learning are as fulfilled as people who took an academic route.** 

The new study, commissioned by the Edge Foundation, is based on a survey of over 2,000 18-35 year olds, split between those who had opted for a vocational education and those who had taken a wholly academic route.

Whilst two thirds (65%) of the academic group said they felt their school supported their choice, only a third (35%) of the vocational group could say the same. Over a third (36%) of students who pursued a vocational route were advised by school that they would be 'more successful' if they chose the academic pathway and almost a quarter (22%) were told that they were 'too clever' for vocational education.

Only half (51%) of parents encouraged their child's choice to pursue vocational qualifications, compared to three quarters (74%) who were happy to support their child through an academic route.

But crucially the study reveals that those who pursued vocational paths are as satisfied with their jobs as their peers who pursued academic routes.  All those surveyed were asked to rate their current career in relation to factors such as career choice, salary, success, fulfillment and overall job satisfaction. The answers reveal remarkably little difference in satisfaction between people who chose academic and vocational pathways.

Additionally, research from the 2012 First Steps to Wealth Report, illustrates that the lifetime earnings of a graduate are comparable with the lifetime earnings of many former apprentices - for example construction apprentices earn £1,504,000 compared with £1,612,000 for a graduate.***

Jan Hodges OBE, CEO of the Edge Foundation, said:

"Our research clearly shows that both academic and vocational education can lead to successful and fulfilling careers for young people. It is disappointing that so few parents and teachers see vocational education as being worthwhile, when in fact both routes result in similar levels of happiness, job satisfaction and financial gain.

"The stigma attached to vocational learning is old-fashioned and unjust. A skilled workforce is essential to the UK economy and high quality vocational routes need to be available and encouraged. We are keen to celebrate vocational talent and to raise the esteem of practical learning - and hope to see as many nominations as possible for the 2014 VQ Day Awards, which open today."

Nearly a third (31%) of people who went down an academic route and 35% of vocational learners are not currently working in industries directly leading from these paths. However, more young people change their academic routes because it isn't 'right for them' (32%), compared with just one in five (20%) who take vocational studies.

It seems those that follow an academic path are also more likely to change their mind about their resulting career (20%) compared to only 15% of vocational learners, indicating they are being encouraged down an certain academic route regardless of their specific skills or interests.

Other key findings from the study include:

  • Parents remain the biggest influence on their children's education (44%)
  • School was a big influence for those pursuing academic education (24%) but not as influential for those who went down a vocational route (16%
  • One in seven (14%) of vocational learners were told by their school that they would make more money by pursuing an academic education
  • Almost one in five (19%) leave academic education because they didn't enjoy it

Calling for excellence in vocational learning, teaching and employment, nominations for the annual VQ Day Awards are now open. All nominations forms can be found at:

Download the data here.

*Research conducted by OnePoll in January 2014, surveyed 2,230 people aged 18-35 in full time employment in the UK.

**Respondents were asked to score on a scale of 1-10 (where 10 = happiest)

***Research sourced from the First Steps to Wealth Report, published in 2012

Help us spread the word

Bookmark and Share

What's your view

Add comment »