Criticism of vocational school revamp abounds

Dwindling enrollment and slipping quality of trade school education catalyst for changes to vocational school system, but critics say the government’s plan won’t help

Months of contentious negations between the government, labour union confederation LO and employer association Dansk Arbejdsgiverforening (DA) have finally resulted in a plan to shine up the reputation of the nation’s vocational schools.

Today, just one in five young people choose vocational training after finishing grammar school. In her opening speech to parliament yesterday PM Helle Thorning-Schmidt (Socialdemokraterne) said she would like to see that number increase to 30 percent by 2025.

She was seconded by the economy minister, Margrethe Vestager (Radikale), who yesterday reiterated the mantra repeated by cabinet members in the past months that vocational schols should be made “cooler” and put on a par with the more academically oriented gymnasium in order to attract more students.

Some of the terms of the agreement include a weekly minimum of 26 hours of instructionand a minimum grade requirement in Danish and mathematics when completing grammar school, although a student that has already secured an apprenticeship with a company can get around the requirement. Extra training will be offered to students taking an optional year in grammar school in order to prepare themselves to meet the admission requirements.

“We are raising the quality of vocational education considerably so that a young person can learn a trade, get a job and still be able to read at a high level,” LO head Harold Børsting told Politiken newspaper.

More help for older students
In addition to programmes aimed at young people, the deal will also seek to create job training programmes for unskilled workers over age 25. The government added that it would seek to improve the overall quality of the vocational school system, though just what those steps might be were not specifically outlined in the agreement.

Improved apprenticeship opportunities were also part of the plan.

The deal comes after talks broke down in June, when the government refused to agree to the minimum grade requirement.

Børsting said he was especially pleased that the deal ensured that more would be done to find apprenticeships for vocational school students. Currently, an estimated 12,000 young people lack the apprenticeships they need in order to be able to complete their education.

Students not sold on reforms
The agreement was met with mixed emotions by vocational school students, who thought that some of the new requirements would actually scare away some young people.

“There are some things that our eyes work against the government's aim to increase attendance at vocational schools,” Morten Ryom, head of Erhvervsskolernes Elevorganisation, a student union, told Jyllands-Posten newspaper.

Ryom was especially wary of the new grade point requirements.

“It is a pity that this will keep people out,” he said. “Studies show that many of those who are being trained today or who already have jobs would not have met theses entry requirements.”

The ink had barely been signed on the agreement today when other students, schools and experts came out against the new grade requirements.

Most of the new regulations are set to go into effect in 2014, and the government has set aside 3 billion kroner to pay for the proposed reforms.