From this September the Department of Education will launch a new qualification called the Technical Baccalaureate or Tech-Bacc for post 16 education. It combines a vocational A-Level-equivalent qualification, such as BTEC IT, Engineering or Science with an A level standard Maths qualification ... and an extended written project similar to that used by Universities during their selection process.
Last year it was E-Bacc, this time a qualification for 16 year olds but it was seriously trashed for the crime of putting Maths, Computing, Science, English and a Foreign Language on a pedestal... above the likes of Media, PE, Business, Performing Arts and RS. Such revisionism was obvious nonsense since everyone knew we needed to prepare our children for a life of unemployment in which faith, Facebook and fooling around will be essential existential equipment.
So why then should the latest Bacc succeed? It may not of course, but it deserves to, and for one really good reason. Put simply we need to raise the status of the ‘technocrati’ to the levels enjoyed in near neighbours France and Germany...for our industrial survival.
I have taught Chemistry and Biology at A level, Computing A level, ICT A level and BTEC Level 3 ( A level equivalent) Applied Science. In 30 years much breath has been wasted explaining away the now notorious 20 years of grade inflation and much has changed in education post-16, some things nevertheless have not changed.
- A level at best is an academic preparation for further study on an academic course at University and in itself is not much use to any employer.
- BTEC or any ‘not-A level’ vocational qualification is regarded as lowly by Universities and is poorly understood outside the institutions that issue them, but are useful to employers.
The distinction between the ‘man that drives the car’ and ‘he who changes the wheel’ is very deeply ingrained in our culture and the education system reinforces it ruthlessly. This attitude has not been helped by the massive increase in the numbers going to university, who, obviously, get degrees. The ‘wheel changers’ do not have degrees., and proportionately, increasingly they are forming an underclass.
For example our talented ‘outlaw’ class of computer whizzes are rarely ‘Ist Class Hons Computer Science Cantab’, more likely ‘pokey bedroom in Cheam double first in the university of virtual life’.
However the Tech Bacc as proposed is quite cunning.
Let’s take the vocational stuff as a given pool of practical talent. Now add in Maths at A level. No one, just no one sneers at this qualification. Lack of numeracy is endemic in the ruling classes and they know it, ‘Gosh I was crummy at Maths but Pater got me a job at RBS and luckily no-one understands it here’ indicates that they would like Maths to go away but it won't. Maths is essential to a high status qualification for a technical class.
Finally, the extended written project puts the literacy brick into the wall. I have taught too many youngsters in Computing, Science and IT who think it is ok not to be able to ponce about with words. It’s not, and experience tells me it’s easier to teach a techie to become literate than it is the literati to do computers.
So I wish the Tech-Bacc well. An elite qualification for the technical student is well overdue. Maybe then decision makers in power will understand the issues behind their pipe-dream IT projects.