Balloon artistry, marzipan modelling and self-tanning could be among a number of courses running on borrowed time as ministers prepare to scrap these vocational qualifications widely derided as “Mickey Mouse” courses.
It has been revealed in the news recently that, under new government plans, up to 20,000 vocational courses are to be scrapped and replaced with 15 new qualifications for teenagers in England.
Sixteen-year-olds will have to choose between going down an academic or technical route, according to the Post-16 Skills Plan. The government’s new skills plan, launched by the Education Minister Nick Boles, comes alongside a detailed report into technical education headed by Lord Sainsbury, which calls for thousands of vocational and technical qualifications to be stripped away in favour of 15 pathways.
But, where does this leave current vocational courses? Courses which lead to qualifications including NVQs, City and Guilds, and other diplomas could be consigned to history.
Instead, pupils who opt for the new technical path can then choose between a two-year college-based course or an apprenticeship. Both options will include a “common core” of English, maths and digital skills; however, many are worried that this plan is just going to be another form of the 11-plus, a test given to pupils in their final year of primary school to determine whether that pupil is suited to the academic rigours of a grammar school education.
Courses that could be scrapped under the new plan include:
- Butlers diploma.
- Marzipan modelling.
- Office procedures.
- Barista skills.
- Balloon artistry.
The DfE said: “Currently the system is complex and confusing – for example, budding engineers must choose from a possible 501 courses, with no clear, independent indicator as to which one will give them the best chance of landing a job. These reforms will help ensure no young person, regardless of their background or circumstances, will be let down by the education or training they receive.”
Controversy has been sparked amongst many as they highlight that the Post-16 Skills Plan fails to better address pupils with special educational needs and low attaining pupils. Many pupils leave school without achieving decent GCSE grades; therefore, they are not eligible to take the new technical pathway proposed in the Post-16 Skills Plan. Many of these pupils, who struggle with certain academic aspects because of special needs or learning difficulties, often thrive in vocational education. But they appear not to have been considered here.
Dr Mary Bousted, General Secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL), said: “Forcing young people to choose the route to their future career at the age of 16 would institutionalise the divide between vocational and academic learning. The recent House of Lords report ‘Overlooked and left behind’ clearly articulated how young people who do not choose an academic route to university are disadvantaged, but the skills plan does not address the fundamental issues raised in that report.”
The House of Lords report focusses on how to ensure that all young people are offered a high-quality career path after they leave school, regardless of their career choice. Currently, pupils who do not pursue further studies are deprived of coherent advice regarding options outside of academia. Therefore, young people tend to drift into further studies or into a ‘dead-end job’, which often has no real prospect of progression.
To eradicate this issue, the report states that the focus should be on the quality, rather than quantity, of apprenticeships. Apprenticeships should meet certain standards, offering young people a foundation they can build upon, and ultimately creating a route to a genuine career. It seems that the Post-16 Skills Plan could be a feasible solution to this issue. By abolishing “Mickey Mouse” courses, it could make career paths clear and concise.
Ultimately, the plan could offer pupils 15 clear options for vocational education, which leads to a qualification attached to a job. In theory, this would remove the confusion for post-16 pupils as well as offer them a clear and concise pathway towards a career; however, by removing “Mickey Mouse” courses, could the gap between low-attaining pupils and those who are more academically-able be exacerbated?
 Richard Vaughan (2016) ‘New plans for post-16 education ‘will be seen as another form of the 11-plus’’ <https://www.tes.com/news/school-news/breaking-news/new-plans-post-16-education-will-be-seen-another-form-11-plus> [Accessed: 11 July 2016]
 Javier Espinoza (2016) ‘’Mickey Mouse’ courses for teenagers scrapped in bid to drive up standards’ <http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/2016/07/08/mickey-mouse-courses-scrapped-in-major-government-reform/> [Accessed: 11 July 2016]
 Politics Home (2016) ‘ATL comment on the post-16 skills plan and independent report on technical education’ <https://www.politicshome.com/news/uk/education/press-release/association-teachers-and-lecturers/77136/atl-comment-post-16-skills> [Accessed: 12 July 2016]