Lessons from Denmark

Last Friday’s TES contained an article “Vocation for the amateur” that set me thinking. At first glance I thought it was just more Voc Ed-bashing, but actually it poses a very tricky question; how do you cope with the fact that very few teachers have actually done for a living the skills that they teach?

Under the traditional apprenticeship model, we had the opposite problem; skilled, experienced men (mainly) who couldn’t teach for toffee. Now the boot’s on the other foot. Teachers with purely academic background struggle to bring the real world into the classroom.

I am part-Danish, and in Denmark we have less of a problem with this. The British education system, at least at Secondary level, remains largely modelled on the public schools that once turned out young men fit to run the Empire. Generalist, abstract thinkers make superb administrators – provided they are supported by a plentiful supply of native servants.

Denmark has no natural resources and no significant army with which to carve out an empire. As a result, the Danes value most highly the practical skills of the artisan as being the best route to national wealth. Denmark’s secondary schools grew directly out of apprenticeship system, and they retain their vocational bias today. As far as I can see, there is no downside to this. Danish education certainly isn’t ‘dumbed down’ in any way. I would like to see the government here paying a little more attention to the Danish example; we could learn a lot.

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