Vocational Schools in Secondary Education Overview


As Sacks (2001) notes, the fundamentality of vocational education to special education students is immeasurable. Special education students with diminished functioning get to acquire skills that help them seek employment and live autonomously. They acquire skills usable past their high school lives, skills that correspond with their abilities. In essence, teachers conduct vocational assessments to help special students explore different options and come up with vocational programs corresponding to each student’s aptitude. In addition, teachers explore the abilities of special education students and formulate training programs that maximize each student’s potential. As Sacks (2001) further highlights, organizations hiring employees with special needs who have undergone vocational training find the employees equally responsible and productive. The purpose of education is to nurture successful individuals who can have an immense contribution to society. Vocational education helps special education students get employment that empowers them. This makes them feel that they productively contribute to society thus playing a core role in special education students.

However, when it comes to vocational schools present in U.S. secondary education, there are multiple controversies concerning whether they address the needs of special education students. As noted by California Adult Literacy Professional Development Project (2012), The Perkins Act objective aimed at increasing access to better vocational education services to special needs students through secondary education. The Perkins Act was ambiguous given the state of education and the country’s economy at this time. This statement accompanies the notion that vocational education in secondary schools is a dead-end for high school students or special students with no plan to advance their education. In addition, there is the assumption that vocational education targets educationally disadvantaged students to keep them in school. These controversies are major hindrances in implementing vocational education in secondary schools with a focus on special education students, thus hindering such students to benefit from vocational education. With this in mind, this document seeks to investigate the basics of vocational education in secondary schools and its essence in special education students. This will remarkably provide an in-depth understanding of vocational education about special education students thus eradicating the existing controversies and harnessing the implementation of vocational education in secondary schools with a focus on special education students.

Basics of Vocational Education

Vocational education prepares individuals for different levels of employment from trade to high professional positions such as nursing, engineering, architecture, accounting, law and pharmacy among others. As Billett (2011) stresses, vocational education serves several purposes including preparing individuals for work-life by informing them about the available occupations and developing individuals’ capacities to practice the occupations they have chosen. In addition, vocational education continually develops individuals in their working life to enable them to meet work performance needs as time changes and provide support for individuals transiting to different occupations. Hence, vocational education focuses on helping people realize occupations that suit them best, providing capacities needed for the occupation and refining the capacities continually to enable individuals to sustain employability throughout their lives. Vocational education also includes imperatives needed to secure occupational specialization such as problem-solving, being literate and communication skills among others. Although these are not occupation-specific, individuals need them to participate effectively in their work lives.

In contrast to the preconceived notion, Heikkinen & Kraus (2009) sufficiently prove that vocational education is not a preserve for children with special needs or students who do not intend to pursue education beyond the high school level. The diverse purposes served by vocational education are present in different institutions including colleges, secondary schools and universities. Regularly, these institutions may collaborate to provide integrated learning experiences to address the needs of the occupational fields. This provides students in vocational sectors with opportunities to learn diverse skills and acquire diverse knowledge in their occupations.

Billett (2011) reveals that students in vocational education sectors tend to be diverse than the ones schooling in higher education such as colleges. Some are young adults, adolescents or older adults from diverse backgrounds, urban and rural. Others are new entrants while others may be shifting occupations or harnessing their skills. This brings learners who are in various career stages, experienced and newly qualified practitioners, novice practitioners and workforce entrants together. These characteristics make vocational education constitute the most assorted learners about their prior experiences, readiness and interests. Such characteristics make vocational education a source of diverse courses ranging from skills needed to maintaining safe workplaces to high-level multi-year courses amounting to prestigious professions such as medicine, physiotherapy and law.

Nata (2003) indicates that the organization of vocational education focus on addressing the identified national educational and occupational standards externally. In essence, this is the state of vocational education. Global agencies, regional governance and national government are advocating for this move. However, this move may fail to address the needs and expectations arising in various societal settings, regions or countries. In addition, this move may fail to account for the students’ purposes or diverse needs. However, it is necessary to note that such measures aim at ensuring that vocational education as an educational sector realizes its full potential. This implies that they are not impediments to vocational education, as vocational sectors do not have to comply with such measures. Vocational education sectors operate based on the purpose of vocation education as addressed in this section.

Vocational Schools in Secondary Education and their Efforts Towards Addressing Special Education Students’ Needs

In United States schools, special education students acquire vocational education through secondary education vocational schools. Secondary education starts from middle school, sixth grade to high school, twelfth grade. In secondary schools, management offers vocational training to all students including those with special educational needs. Vocational training includes career-tech courses, general labour market courses such as industrial arts, technology and keyboarding. In addition, secondary education vocational schools managements provide family and consumer courses and occupation-oriented training among other sorts of training.

Remarkably, Snell& Brown (2005) indicate that vocational schools in secondary education have Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) that help to identify special education students’ post-school vision and goals. In most cases, secondary education vocational schools formulate students’ needs or goals through comprehensive vocational assessments focusing on daily living, social, personal, academic, vocational and occupational skills. The schools use the assessment results to formulate effective IEP. IEPs take into consideration the students’ interests, dreams and interests after they finish secondary education. In addition, IEPs help to assess a special education student’s education performance in correlation with the student’s desires or goals. This enables the trainer to structure transition service needs concerning employment development and post-school living objectives coupled with daily living skills. The trainers continually review this as the student progresses. In addition, the trainers in collaboration with the student outlay long-term and short-term objectives for each special education student.

The vocational school managerial levels present in high school also develop transition checklists, which the school personnel use when training the students. This ensures that the trainers and the entire school personnel address the needs of students with special educational needs. Lauglo & Maclea (2005) highlight that the checklists require that the transition team members, including the student and parents among others to be aware of the process and alternatives after the student, complete vocational school. In addition, the school management requires that the trainer participate dynamically to ensure that a student is aware of his/her special needs, understand the available, effective accommodation that can aid in a successful career and develop self-advocacy skills. In addition, the school management tracks students with special education needs after completion of vocational education to check on their progress and help them improve on employment, post-secondary training, community participation, relationships and living environment. Noticeably, most vocational schools management in secondary education have transition planning teams that act as advisory channels to students with special education needs. The teams also structure curriculum input while focusing on each student’s occupational area and organize for community-based training options for such students, including apprenticeships and internships.

Although vocational schools at the secondary level focus on preparing students with special education needs for their future job, Levinson & Palme (2005), note that trainers impart them with specific, broad-based skills and knowledge that help such students survive within the community and at the workplace. These include academic skills such as speaking, writing and reading, basic computation and problem-solving skills. In addition, the trainer teaches special education students communication skills, processing and understanding information, and social skills such as taking messages, answering phones, making calls and maintaining workplace etiquette. Perceptibly, the trainers impart them with vocational and occupational skills such as accepting corrections and instructions, arriving at the workplace on time, making calls when sick, using time cards and interacting with co-workers. For autonomy purposes, the trainer also teaches them how to search for jobs in newspapers and other sources, fill in the applications, write cover letters and resumes, paperwork, interview skills and obtainment of work-related identification such as birth certificates.


The above discussion reveals that the controversies present in secondary education vocational schools are fallacies. Notably, the state of vocational education is competitive enough to attain its purpose and address students’ needs without external impediments. Unmistakably, vocational education is a pathway through which students with special education needs and those without can advance their education and join high-ended professions such as law and medicine among others. Perceptibly, secondary education vocational education does not target students with special education needs to keep them in school. It helps them realize occupations that suit them best, provide capacities needed for the occupation and refine the capacities continually to enable them to sustain employability throughout their lives just as it does with other people. Hence, considering the benefits accrued to vocational education, students with special education needs should eradicate the existing controversies. In addition, educationists should harness the implementation of vocational education in secondary schools with a focus on special education students to enable such students to achieve maximum benefits of vocational education.


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  2. California Adult Literacy Professional Development Project. (2012). High school vocational education: Past and present.
  3. Heikkinen, A. & Kraus, K. (2009). Reworking vocational education: Policies, practices and concepts. New York, NY: Peter Lang.
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  5. Levinson, E.M. & Palme, E.J. (2005). Preparing students with disabilities for school-to-work transition and post-school life.
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