Wednesday, 30 January 2008

McEducation ?

Working for McDonalds seems to have taken the place of national service for a new generation.

Something along the lines of ‘well it might be shit but at least it taught me a thing or two about life’.

News that McDonalds will be able to award qualifications that are the equivalent of A-levels has not been greeted with the derision that I would expect. People are rallying to the defense of vocational education and branding those who joke about degrees in hamburger flipping as intellectual snobs.

I know a thing or two about this: I've introduced a vocational qualification scheme into my workplace; the Level 3 NVQ Advanced Modern Apprenticeship , which is also supposedly the equivalent of an A Level. And I’ve also been occasionally accused of being an intellectual snob because I believe in learning for learning’s sake.

The apprenticeship scheme is not perfect by any means; the self-development side of it seems to come from the back of a second-rate self-help book, and the technical side of it is out of step with current technology and practice. BUT it does give new entrants some sort of career structure and a sense that they are entering a skilled trade. And for a whole period of ten years, between the old craft apprenticeships being obsolete and the present scheme being adopted, this was not clear and many youngsters fell by the wayside.

It’s proper vocational training and it’s a good thing. So why don’t McDonalds just do the same? And why are the government recognising their home-grown scheme ?

Maybe because:

• Making hamburgers is not a skilled trade and doesn’t merit a full apprenticeship – the whole slick McDonalds operation is down to standardisation and de-skilling so that their burgers are the same everywhere – that’s actually the precise opposite of what a proper catering apprenticeship would be about.

• An apprenticeship teaches a general skill or trade rather than simply how to do specific tasks. But a large part of McDonalds' ‘training’ pride itself on learning to do things the McDonalds way. Or corporate brain-washing. Not really the kind of thing that City & Guilds is able to teach or evaluate.

• Muddled thinking on education and training: Vocational and non-vocational education are both good and should have equal status. But trying to come up with a system of equivalency will tie us in knots - hence the BA in Hamburger-Studies joke. The muddle can be seen in the fact that firms can't get funding for graduates to do an apprenticeship. Because degrees are deemed to be the equivalent of a Level 5 NVQ ! The idea that a graduate might want to pursue a skilled trade apparently just doesn’t compute – (that one jars with me personally).

• The new consensus that public bad / private good means that businesses are creeping more and more into education. We’ve already got city/technical academies – and before we realise it, commercially ‘useless' subjects will be unavailable to all but the most privileged.

But we can still at least all get a BA (McD).

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