COLUMN: ‘Practical and communication skills are just as important as academic knowledge’ says Westwell of Ely

Rosemary Westwell

Rosemary Westwell - Credit: Archant

At last, new T-level qualifications are being introduced: ones that will be practical and on a par with ‘A’ levels.

They have been needed for years. I never understood why the technical colleges we had years ago were persuaded to upgrade into becoming universities.

The need for students to qualify in more practical subjects has always been there and for years practically-minded students have had to struggle to pass irrelevant exams that were useless for their needs.

We have been working under the assumption that ‘A’ levels are superior to any hands-on experience.

To be able to read, digest, manipulate and remember information is important, yes. But being able to do this does little to help one fix the plumbing.

It seems common practice for our politicians to meddle with the education of our youth solely to score political points.

These new T-level qualifications are yet another example, but for once, a positive move forward, even though the idea is only a recycled theory from the old days.

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Politicians continually come up with new ideas and believe that because they are ‘new’, they are better - irrespective of how disruptive they will be for the students.

I have yet to understand why everything ‘new’ is necessarily better. The ‘new’ academies, for example, may well be splendid new educational institutions that are improving the education of our youngsters, but the notion that sometimes commercial, money-making schemes are more important than curriculum choices can make me wonder what the students are missing.

You cannot treat education as something that can be measured according to its monetary value, just as you cannot research new educational projects properly for there is no one that would condone deliberately educating a control group of children badly to be used as a comparison for a scheme that you are endeavouring to prove good value.

However, no matter how useful and important T-level qualifications in childcare, digital software, building, engineering, law, finance or accounting may be, there is one area in both ‘A’ level and practical qualifications that is missing.

If only there was a subject in ‘personal communication’, then our world, both business and academic, would be much better.

How often have people complained that academics have their head in the clouds and cannot communicate with the minions beneath? How often have we complained that young workers appear to be sullen and impolite?

This is because they have not been trained in personal communication. If a customer asks for something, a simple ‘no, we haven’t got it.’ is correct, but off-putting.

If the reply is: ‘No. we haven’t got it, but we could order it, if you like,’ it is more helpful and likely to be more successful.