Huddersfield launches vocational training research project

£360K research project to improve the UK’s technical and vocational education and training

A major research project led by the University of Huddersfield’s Professor Kevin Orr aims to bring about significant improvements in the standards of technical and vocational education and training in the UK.   

The Gatsby Foundation, a major provider of research funding in science and the arts, has awarded £360,000 to the three-year project headed by Professor Orr, who will work with colleagues at three other universities. The University of Huddersfield’s Dr Ron Thompson – who carried out a pilot study of technical training – is also closely involved, and two researchers will be specially appointed.

The team will begin with a large-scale investigation of current pedagogy and practice in training teachers of engineering, technology and vocational science subjects, principally in Further Education colleges. The knowledge gained will lead to the development of an “intervention”, designed to raise standards. This will include both online and physical resources and provide guidance and instructions for teacher training. 

In the second year of the project, the intervention will be trialled around the country, involving as many trainee teachers as possible. The researchers will then be able to appraise its effectiveness. 

This is about taking technician-level training seriously, identifying the best ways of improving the education and training of these people and therefore thinking about the people who teach the technicians and how they can be developed

“There is concern that the education and training of science, engineering and technical technicians is often inadequate or could be improved,” said Professor Orr, explaining the decision of the Gatsby Foundation to make what he believes is the largest single research grant in the field of vocational training. 

“This is about taking technician-level training seriously, identifying the best ways of improving the education and training of these people and therefore thinking about the people who teach the technicians and how they can be developed,” continued Professor Orr.

Britain has long suffered from a spurious division between academic and vocational subjects, with the latter being given a lower status, he added. “It is a huge cultural issue, but at the University of Huddersfield, we take vocational education very seriously. People often talk about the skills gap in a very ill-informed way, but we do know that within specific areas of Britain, there are needs for particular technical skills,” said Professor Orr.  This meant that there was a need to improve standards of training, to create new generations of technicians.

“We have to recognise the inherent value of vocational education and training, regardless of societal prejudice. Our goal is to improve our understanding of how trainees in this area best learn what is valuable and what is useful for them, in order to inform better teacher education.” 

In 2014, Professor Orr’s work in the field of vocational education resulted in him receiving the award of National Teaching Fellowship from the Higher Education Academy.

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