Reforming Vocational Education and Training: Concepts of Quality in the recent Reform Agreement on Vocational Education and Training in Denmark

Nanna Friche, Sissel Kondrup

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The systems of vocational education and training are facing a number of challenges in many European countries. The share of young people who are neither employed, nor in education or training (NEET) is still higher for graduates from upper secondary VET than from upper secondary general programmes. Students who enter vocational programmes are less likely to graduate than those who are enrolled in general programmes. Moreover, they are nearly five times less likely to enrol in further education than graduates from general secondary schools with similar proficiency in literacy (OECD 2015). These trends means that the challenges are twofold. First, the VET systems are required to offer double qualifications, which give access not only to skilled employment, but also to higher education (Deissinger 2013). Secondly, the VET systems are met by diverse demands to be social inclusive and exclusive at the same time (Jørgensen 2014). The demand for social inclusion stems from the political goal of giving all young people some kind of post-compulsory degree to enhance their employability. Hence the challenge for VET is to provide educational opportunities for students often with a disadvantaged social background. The second challenge is to attract more students – even when a growing share of a youth cohort in most countries are opting for higher education. These recent trends, challenges and demands address issues on quality and quality assurance of the VET systems in many European countries these years. One example of this increased focus on quality in VET is the VET system in Denmark, where a new reform of VET was decided by a broad political coalition in the Danish Parliament by 2014, in order to address issues of quality in VET. Hence the aim of the reform is to create ‘a better and more attractive vocational education and training’. But what does 'better' and 'more attractive' mean? Firstly, this paper examines the perceptions and concepts of quality that is reflected in the political Agreement on the quality and attractiveness of Danish vocational education. Secondly, the paper identifies a number of challenges related to these different perceptions and concepts of quality. The research question of the paper is: What concepts of quality draws the political Agreement on Better and More Attractive Vocational Education and Training programmes on? And with which potential implications for the political expectations to the VET system and the VET schools? The paper is based on the assumption that the VET reform is to be considered as a quality reform and an analysis of the quality perspectives, drawing on the political Agreement on Better and More Attractive Vocational Education and Training (2014) reveals which formal expectations and demands the VET programs are expected to meet. The paper provides an analysis of these expectations by drawing on a new institutional organizational perspective (Scott 2008). An institutional perspective is interesting and relevant as vocational schools within this must be understood as organizations, whose survival is contingent to a stabile level of legitimacy. Legitimacy is ensured by responding appropriately to the expectations that exist in the organization's environment. For vocational schools in Denmark legitimacy is fundamental and ensured by trust from actors in the environment such as politicians, social partners, students, prospective students, parents, internship companies and companies employing the skilled workers and journeymen. 'Quality' in vocational training undergoes negotiations and is to be defined by these actors (both direct and indirect). In this paper focus is solely on the Agreement, which is due to the assumption that the Agreement as empirical piece provides evidence for and knowledge on the political view on the formal existence and legitimacy of VET. Method The paper is empirically based on the formal political Agreement on the VET Reform (Danish Ministry of Education 2014). Theoretically, we draw on the concepts of quality in public policy identified by Dahler-Larsen (2008). Dahler-Larsen argues that quality is a contested concept and that quality assuring systems result in constitutive effects of the local educational practices in which quality is measured and developed. Dahler-Larsen suggests five concepts of quality, which are; quality defined as a political objective, quality defined as an outcome/effect, quality defined as user needs/demands, quality defined as a standard, and quality defined as an organizational quality system. These five concepts are developed by Dahler-Larsen trough a carefully historical examination on how different concepts of quality arise, develops and are being promoted over several decades. The political Agreement on VET is analyzed by drawing on Dahler-Larsens conceptualizations/descriptions of these five quality concepts. Expected Outcomes The expected result is that the political Agreement draws on all five quality concepts included to increase the quality of VET. Furthermore, an expected result is that the Agreement is based on an implicit assumption that the different perspectives are mutually supportive. The different concepts, however, are based on fundamentally different conceptions of how to define and ensure quality in public policy. Thus, the risk is that the requirement to link up all five perspectives will lead to contradictions and conflicts in the quality work at local level. These are conflicts the schools will face and have to deal with in their local reform implementation and quality work. This is expected to have implications and consequences in different aspects. References Andersen, V.N. & Friche, N. (2016): Four logics of management – Governing vocational Education and Training. Paper for Workshop on Lost in Transition, Uni Research Stein Rokkan Centre for Social Studies, Norway. Biesta, G. (2011) God uddannelse i målingens tidsalder – etik, politik, demokrati. Klim. Aarhus. Dahlberg, M. & Vedung, E. (2001): Demokrati och Brukarutvärdering. Studentlitteratur. Lund. Dahler-Larsen, P. (2008): Kvalitetens Beskaffenhed. Syddansk Universitetsforlag. Odense. Danish Ministry of Education (2014): Agreement on Better and More Attractive Vocational Education and Training Programmes. Copenhagen, 2014. Dalsgaard, L. og Jørgensen, H. (2007): Kvalitet i den offentlige sektor – kvalitet af hvad og for hvem? FTF Dokumentation nr. 6 – November 2007. 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ConferenceECER 2017
LocationUCC, Campus Carlsberg
Other<br/><br/><br/><br/>Since the 1990s, European national education systems have been undergoing extensive reforms that strive for constant change and improvement, yet, in some cases, lead to a decline in the quality of education. Among other things, these system reforms result from an interaction between the national and transnational policy levels. <br/>Supranational agents such as the OECD and the EU – and, in higher education, the Bologna Process – influence national policies through standard-setting comparisons of national performance data and policy advice. As such, the scope and formats within which national policies can be conducted have changed radically, and this has transformed the daily practices of teachers, researchers, students and pupils and their parents. This development, which is proceeding at a tremendously fast rate, encompasses higher education, teacher education, vocational training as well as kindergartens, elementary schools and high schools. <br/><br/>Such transnational reform pressure leaves educational researchers and affiliated associations and organizations with numerous challenges, potentials, dilemmas and choices. <br/><br/>The European Conference on Educational Research (ECER) in Copenhagen 2017 invites scholars to reflect on the role of educational research in reforming education and the imperative of constant change. The prevalence of the Knowledge Economy discourse has pushed education higher up the government agenda, and, consequently, this policy area has become increasingly important to govern. But do current attempts to standardise education systems, programmes and curricula actually contribute uniformity? Or do national and local translations of the new education standards disrupt attempts to standardise? ECER 2017 addresses the impact of this transnational reform pressure by focusing on the ways in which reforms are affected by the roads they travel when they move across borders throughout Europe and beyond.<br/>
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