“Disengaged”
“Poor attitude”
“Disinterested”

The negative connotations that come along with a student who is disengaged do little to help the pupil or school in tackling underlying issues.

In fact, there has long since been a link between low teacher expectations and a self-fulfilling prophecy of a student who underperforms.

Allowing students to struggle in the traditional classroom setting has now been recognised as counterproductive for all – for teacher, for pupil and for fellow pupils.

The stigma attached to those who are disengaged is changing, and experts have made the case clear: if we’re to counter the imposing problem of disengaged pupils, our thinking must be switched from students being disengaged with education, to students that are disengaged with school.

When we consider the latter, vocational qualifications present quite the alluring option.

Why do children become disengaged students?

There has been extensive research into disengaged students and the potential reasons behind their fall from educational grace.

These studies have suggested a number of root causes, such as: a lack of academic aptitude, missing basic skills and cognitive strategies (Haring et al., 1978); “inertia, apathy, disillusionment or engagement in other pursuits”(Krause 2005) and “bullying and attending a school that experiences a fast improvement in its performance” (Foliano et al.).

In these instances, there is reason to believe that vocational qualifications are a viable and potentially beneficial alternative, although in the latter instance (of bullying and institution improvement) such training would have to be delivered in a different environment to the school.

The landscape of vocational qualifications today

The recent changes in the structure of GCSE grading has been influenced by the need to offer and recognise the value of vocational courses.

The Department for Education states that their recent introduction of added vocational courses aims to:

  • Introduce learners to a broad sector of industry and business.
  • Encourage understanding of the sector, key concepts and theories prevalent in it.
  • Develop capability in some skills used within it.

The range of vocational subjects covers eight core areas:

  • Applied Art and Design
  • Applied Business
  • Engineering
  • Health and Social Care
  • Applied Information and Communication Technology (ICT)
  • Leisure and Tourism
  • Manufacturing
  • Applied Science

While it has not yet been an entire academic year since the focus shifted towards vocational GCSEs, and the impact on disengaged students is too soon to judge, research has found an undeniable link between vocational education and re-engaging students.

One paper argued that vocational qualifications represent a ‘clean slate’ – a chance to overcome issues with self-worth and efficacy (which links back to research in the area of self-fulfilling prophecies: Kelly and Price, 2009).

What we do know, is that vocational training has been a resounding success for re-introducing NEETs back into further education (Ofsted), and as such, the educational world will likely be waiting with bated breath for the first insight into just what impact such courses have had on our disengaged students.

Don’t forget, if you are looking for a solution that can help you improve outcomes for students completing vocational qualifications, you can request a free trial of our EDLounge platform and discover how it can improve pupil attainment, behaviour and attendance in your setting.