Academic journal article Australian Journal of Education

Vocational Subject-Making and the Work of Schools: A Case Study

Academic journal article Australian Journal of Education

Vocational Subject-Making and the Work of Schools: A Case Study

Article excerpt

The rhetoric of the new vocationalism is about creating a new type of person: an enterprising, flexible, portfolio-oriented, lifelong learner. The rhetoric of contemporary Australian government policy is that schools should be more vocational. This article focuses on schooling and a case study of a site where two vocational 'dual accreditation' subjects are being taught. It argues (a) that different visions of schooling and vocational knowledge are evident at different levels of the system, but also between teachers involved in the same formal structure and between students within the same classes; (b) that the dual assessment regimes observed here embody not only different epistemologies, but different imputed identities of the learner-worker; and (c) that class and gender attributes matter but are not adequately acknowledged in the new agendas for school. The article illustrates ambiguities in what teachers and students are expected to do, and, in particular, a mixture of different ideas about what knowledge counts and what attributes are valued within the school-based vocational subjects.

Keywords

vocational

identity

schooling

assessment

knowledge

case study

Introduction

   The recent growth in VET [Vocational Education and Training] in
   schools ... is part of a drive to prepare students in secondary
   schooling more effectively for employment ... [V]ocational
   education in schools also forms part of a number of other reform
   agendas; for example, addressing broader concerns about the
   relevance and effectiveness of the senior secondary school
   curriculum, improving the transition from school to further
   education and training, and the promotion of lifelong learning
   (House of Representatives Standing Committee on Education and
   Training Report, 2004, 7.1).

In Australia, as in Europe, governments, training bodies, business councils and academic theorists are eager to scrutinise the changing economy, to identify the desirable attributes of the 'new worker' and to put in place (or critique) changes to education and training in terms of these 'new times'. A common theme in many of these discussions is that the new worker needs to acquire or display orientations and attributes that go beyond specific items of work-related knowledge and competencies. They need to be flexible; to be oriented to lifelong learning; to be able to present and communicate appropriately in different contexts; to maintain, update and present to the best advantage portfolios of their achievements; and to be enterprising. Another common theme in these discussions is that institutional changes are required, that schools must learn to become more vocational, or vocational in a different way; and that rigid boundaries between institutions need to disappear, so that 'pathways' can become more flexible. But rhetorical calls for a re-construction of the worker and their training are one thing; the enactment and take-up of new practices is another.

Previous research has drawn attention to a range of problems and issues that are confronted when new policy rhetoric meets conflicting stakeholder interests and particular institutional and sector histories. Boreham (2002) for example, discusses the inherent conflict of interest between employers, governments and individual students in relation to training agendas and qualifications at school, and discusses how these play out differently in different structural conditions of governance of training in Germany as compared with the United Kingdom. Cho and Apple (1998) show that an attempt to instill new 'work subjectivity' through educational reform in Korea achieved only token changes, due both to the inadequacy of implementation conditions in terms of bringing teachers on side and to the resistance of students attuned to other markers of social status. Williams (2005) reviews Australian reports and literature on new definitions of 'generic skills' in the 1990s and beyond, and points to the ambiguities and frequent contradictions as to whether these 'generic' competencies are seen as innate attributes of the person or are conceived as things that may be learned and taught. …

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