Case study

Diverging pathways in further education: policy, curriculum and practice

University of Derby researchers in Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) have highlighted how further education policies have the potential to widen the gap in young people’s transitions to employment and adulthood. The research has led to changes in policy at national and institutional level, benefiting policymakers, their agencies, educators and some of the most marginalised students in the post-16 education system.

A growing divide between opportunities for the most advantaged students on ‘technical’ routes and more marginalised learners is associated with widening differences in curriculum and in teaching. Their effects can further be seen in struggles over the education of teachers and trainers in both further education and apprenticeships.

‘Technical elites’ and ‘welfare VET’

Following the Sainsbury Review, the University’s study of Level 3 work experience commissioned for the Gatsby Charitable Foundation, showed some students gaining access to specialist knowledge only available on placements but others being accustomed to routine employment.

Subsequent funding awarded by the Department for Education (DfE) to evaluate the first industry placement pilots, and a further study of the way workplace learning was leading to very different learning experiences, led the research team to characterise these differences as the formation of ‘technical elites’ and ‘welfare VET’. These differences illustrate the contrasting opportunities that are engendered by higher technical vocational programmes associated with professional areas such as engineering and construction, and lower level and lower status programmes associated with more precarious and poorly paid job roles in the service sector

The research has had significant effects on the policy debate, including changes to the DfE’s placement policies. The University is now working to support colleges in providing more meaningful experiences of workplace learning for all students.

Low-attaining youth and the level 1 curriculum

Conducted in partnership with Guernsey College, the University has been involved in developing a different kind of curriculum for the lowest attaining young people which is engaging, offers the opportunity for meaningful learning in the workplace, and is more consistent with a commitment to social justice.

The impact of this project on practice and policy has extended beyond Guernsey College, informing policy development for Applied Qualifications at Level 2 and below, and demonstrating the value of a socially just curriculum. Young people involved are remaining in college and/or moving on to sustainable and secure employment. Statistical analysis shows an increase in qualification achievement, an increase in retention, and a decrease in numbers becoming NEET (not in education, employment, or training) across the term of the project

Challenges to teacher professionalism

Limited and narrow views of learning at work have been matched by over-simplified views of vocational teaching, and in turn FE teacher education. Researchers at Derby have demonstrated how vocational teachers described as ‘dual professionals’ (expert teachers and experts in their fields) experience precarious employment and poor support in their early teaching. This research has been taken up through calls for stronger professional formation, and the University continues to support colleges in developing these areas.

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Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) Research Cluster

We carry out research studies within the broad fields of professional, continuing, technical and vocational education. We carry out research and development work in these areas.

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