Characteristics of British Education and Training

“Between the idea and the reality falls the shadow”. T. S. Eliot.

A wonderful quotation that sadly sums up the British Education and Training system.

Some characteristics of technical. commercial education and training in Britain identified over the period covered by the history on this website include:

  • poor linkages to the economy and the world of work
  • low participation and achievements rates
  • restricted access, progression opportunities and continued evidence of elitism as a result of social class based divisions.
  • negative perception of technical and vocational education and training by politicians, parents, society in general and sadly by many employers
  • the basic cultural hostility to scientific mathematical and technological subjects
  • culture of amateurism and continued neglect of science and technology coupled with an indifference to entrepreneurialism.
  • reluctance to renovate and innovate the country’s manufacturing industries and associated infra-structure
  • a degree of over self-confidence and complacency born out of a misplaced belief of past industrial greatness and the continued resonances of the Empire!
  • constant government interference too often operated on a short term basis and coupled with an overall lack of interest in technical and vocational education and training
  • lots of talk about the problems but very little action to solve them – great – after all the country is world class at writing reports that then collect dust on the shelves.

As with the majority of important issues including education and training this country has suffered from the weakness of successive governments and politicians – after all Intellect Failure has been a Permanent Characteristic of Successive British Governments and many politicians! Poor decision taking has been a constant characteristic of British politics over many decades.

Education and Training over the period of this history has been too isolated and independent of the country’s economic needs and must surely in future produce people leaving schools, colleges and universities that match the employment needs of the country,

(It must be remembered that British Society is essentially a conservative one – this manifests itself very often in undue caution and even sheer inertia towards change).

The failure of the technical, commercial and vocational education and training system contributed to the poor performance of the country in its industrial and business base especially when compared with our main international competitors. Some of the factors identified in the history include:

  • Britain failed consistently to recognise the importance of educating trained scientists in the emerging industries and did not as in Germany establish close institutional relationships between applied science in HE and research and development in industry
  • Innovation in Britain lagged behind in emerging industries that were most dependent upon scientific knowledge and principles namely chemicals, dye-stuff and electrical technology.
  • One of the realities and ultimately negative results of being the pioneering industrial nation that had been created by the gifted artisan and enthusiastic and brilliant amateur who were subsequently unable to apply their undoubted talents to the emerging scientific and technological industries . This was not their fault but that of the state which did not establish a national system of technical and scientific education and training. Other nations such as America and Germany realised the importance of scientific education and training at the higher levels and subsequently became pre-eminent in these and other high technological industries in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
  • Lack of scientific and technological training of manufacturers and the resulting inability to comprehend the value and importance of science and technology.
  • Poor and uninspiring secondary education led to low progression rates to more advanced scientific and technological education and training
  • An insufficient supply of young people that were properly trained in science , the techniques of applied science and manufacturing
  • The absence of higher technological institutions properly resourced to deliver particularly advanced education and training e.g. at postgraduate levels
  • Also an underdeveloped applied science facility in universities, colleges and a lack of a number of high quality vocational HE institutions e.g. polytechnic type all contributed to a weak technical and technological education and training system. In addition there has been a consistent weakness in the schools for scientific, technical and vocational subjects.
  • Also generally a luke warm support for technical and commercial education and training from employer organisations, Chambers of Commerce, CBI etal.

The slow development of technical, commercial education and training in Britain has been voluntary, haphazard and incidental. Sadly these characteristics and approaches continue today!

When initiatives/pilot experiments were introduced most failed because:

  • of conflicts between and within relevant interested parties e.g. government, their departments, special advisors. quangos etal
  • Minimal coordination of the initiatives/pilots
  • The absence of clearly defined objectives and strategies for the implementation of the initiatives/pilots
  • Very often pilots and initiatives were operated over too short a period of time
  • Very seldom fully evaluated at the end of the pilot.

Good examples: CPVE, GNVQ and TVEI.

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