Chapter from Bad Education: Debunking Myths in Education (2012).
When, a few years ago, it was reported that a bright young woman had turned down the offer of a place at Oxford in order to take up an apprenticeship in hairdressing, there was outrage in the press. The general opinion was that she must be mad, perverse or subject to extremely bad advice or influence. Why would someone with the world at their feet throw away their lives, people asked in despair. It is true that this decision will, statistically, have a significant impact on her life choices and her in- come (though there are, of course, hair stylists who are wealthy, highly articulate and well-respected). But behind the outpourings of opinion one could hear the rumblings of a very deeply entrenched set of social attitudes about the relative merits of the academic and the vocational. These have profoundly influenced educational discourse, and the lives of millions of young people, in the UK for the last 100 years. In this chapter we want to unearth this collection of attitudes and assumptions, and submit them to the scrutiny of contemporary science. This paper was written jointly by myself and my long-time collaborator Professor Bill Lucas.
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