Technical Education Matters

Dick Evans, well known to T Mag readers as a regular contributor, tells us why it’s important to stay up to date with history

As a former student at a further education college, and having been employed in the sector for over thirty years, it’s natural that I have strong views. Many of you have been kind enough to listen to them over the years, not least in these pages. So you won’t be surprised to hear that one of the things I feel most strongly is that the area of technical education and training is not given the attention that it deserves.

The Further Education Sector (FEC) is the closest existing widespread example of a comprehensive system of education in the UK. As well as providing a second chance for all sorts of people in all kinds of ways, colleges offer strategically important subjects that are essential for economic health. Together with training providers from the private and voluntary sectors, colleges deliver the majority of technical and vocationally focused programmes in the country.

There is little doubt that FE is best suited to tackle the challenges of skill gaps and shortages that still hold back our economy from being world-class.

In spite of their success and the importance of the technical and vocational provision they provide, colleges are still too often perceived as second class. In too many people’s minds they are a place that less able students go to if they can’t get their education and training anywhere else.

Learning from history

It could get enormously frustrating, but fortunately the long perspective offered by the centuries behind us has proved a calming influence on me – as has my other long-range passion, looking through a telescope at the stars. Over the last few years I have spent many hours in libraries and archives finding out about how technical and vocational education and training developed in this country and further afield. My studies were happy but the findings sometimes less so.

One of the recurring issues that still persists today is people’s apparent inability to learn from experience. Politicians, government advisors, and now a whole multitude of agencies and quangos, continually fail to articulate clear long term strategies and policies for technical and vocational education and training. Political amnesia seems to be for ever evident when governments develop their policies and doing the same thing the same way and expecting a different result! The preference seems to be to imagine that proposals are original and can justifiable carry the label ‘new’.

Even so, I still have my heroes, the people and organisations that have been a positive and creative influence on the development of technical education. Some of them succeeded against the odds and in the teeth of indifference or hostility from the establishment. Several biographies and pen portraits of these individuals and groups have been published in T Mag over the past three years on the web.

They are now available on a website that I have created as a free resource. My hope is that the site will be of value to people interested in this area of education and training. As well as the biographies and pen portraits mentioned above, the site contains extensive and fully-documented histories of technical education and of technical and commercial examinations. Several people have already told me how useful they are as a reference, which encourages me to continue adding to them.

A number of comprehensive appendices, including chronologies, glossaries of terms and a book list, complement and add value to the histories. Finally a series of articles completes the site, with previously published pieces as well as new ones that cover current issues associated with the topic.

The website will be enhanced over time and corrections made as and when errors are identified. I welcome feedback from any T Mag readers who feel inclined to take a look, have a point of view they wish to express or want to publish their own researches. After all, I can’t be the only one digging in this particular field.

Please go to www.technicaleducationmatters.org and see what’s on offer.

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