Natalie Cox: Learning should be for its own sake, not to get a job

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The Independent Online

It has been announced by the Government that 3,100 vocational qualifications will have their value cut, meaning schools can no longer use them to bump their way up league tables. From 2014, students will no longer be getting into university based on their "horse-care" abilities, which is one of the courses worth the same as four GCSEs.

Was horse care on the brink of becoming the new media studies in terms of sneered-upon qualifications? Could fish husbandry pave the way to £9,000 worth of tuition-fee debt in a subject that nobody has ever heard of?

It's a slippery slope. If teachers are telling their pupils these subjects are going to get them into university to study physics, or history of art, while gleefully thinking of that performance-based bonus, we have a problem.

Vocational subjects were meant to be the answer to students who didn't show a great deal of interest in academia. Now it is expected that schools will drop these qualifications so that they can keep up appearances in the league tables.

I know that vocational subjects keep children in school who might otherwise give up on education completely. I think they work well a few years later, instead of A levels, for those with a clear idea of what job they want. But, when I last checked, most people who liked horses when they were 14 didn't go into an equestrian-focused career.

Children shouldn't have to specialise so young. Choosing between history and geography is not quite the same as choosing between history and nail technology services. As alluring as learning how to look after a horse might be, I fail to see why why a 14-year-old child should have to commit to caring for horses until kingdom come.

They will study vocational courses alongside traditional subjects, but I don't think universities are about to put horse care as a required subject for anything other than advanced horse care. We need to be encouraging kids to persevere, to go to university and study what they want to study, not just what is likely to get them a job.

Children should be learning for learning's sake. Lessons I would rather have avoided when I was younger are the reason I will always remember my eight times table, and why I'm interested in art, and history. For my 14th birthday, I asked for a new riding hat, not a new protractor; given the chance to take a horse course, I would probably have jumped at it. But children shouldn't be encouraged to turn their hobbies into career plans, their fleeting fancies into 10-year goals; they should be worrying about who Anne Boleyn was, and how to make pie charts.