Why vocational courses are rarely just the job

“I am often asked if I know a good course for someone who wants to be a journalist. And I do. English. Or history, or politics, or economics.” Former SJA Sports Writer of the Year MARTIN SAMUEL is unconvinced that early specialisation is good for careers

An educational reform pressure group called The Edge has been running ads in newspapers all week calling for schools to concentrate more on providing the skills for employment needs.

In one of these adverts advocating vocational courses, a young face stares defiantly out from the poster. “If I’m going to be a top chef, I’m going to need subjects that cater for me,” says the student.

How true. Mathematics, for starters, because unless a restaurant gets its mark-up percentages right, it might as well book the hall for the fire sale of fixtures and fittings now.

English, too, because a menu will need to be composed, and discerning diners do not tend to trust potatoes dauphinoise that have emerged from the kitchen of a chef who spelt it with an ‘f’.

Economics for the business side of the operation, obviously, and a language might be handy — French in particular, if the intention is to do a little work experience in the country where most of the great chefs train.

Oh, and then there will be one or two years at catering college, because the next step from leaving school at 16 with a GCSE in home economics is not running a Michelin-star restaurant, or even working in one.

There are a lot of early mornings and menial tasks to complete first. It is called learning a trade. bAnd there is no shortcut. Schools can only go so far down this road because a trade requires adult intelligence and adult time-management.

The problem with the increasing emphasis on vocational and practical education is that if you think children are pigeon-holed by academia now, imagine the misery if they are directed towards one particular job at a foolishly early age.

I am often asked if I know a good course for someone who wants to be a journalist. And I do. English. Or history, or politics, or economics.

Traditional subjects. Not some half-baked media studies class, because there is not much point having a journalist who knows his subdecks from his crossheads but thinks Iran and Iraq are the same country (believe me, it happened).

Academic education broadens horizons and experiences; premature emphasis on vocation narrows them.

This is an abbreviated version of Samuel’s weekly opinion column for the Daily Mail. Read the article in full by clicking here

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