People have to stop talking about vocational education as if it were something separate, England's qualifications chief argues.
The country's future depends on having skilled people, Ken Boston says
Ken Boston said the distinction between academic and vocational, or professional and other, was "unhelpful and destructive."
Dr Boston said he had never met a cabinet-maker troubled by low esteem - only by the size of their tax bill.
He was speaking at a conference organised by the exam board OCR.
Dr Boston, head of the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA), set out five things he believed were needed to improve vocational education in England's secondary schools.
The first was to stop talking about vocational qualifications as if they were qualitatively different from other subjects.
"Mindless statements about parity of esteem" were used to hide personal preferences.
'WHICH IS VOCATIONAL?'
being an able seaman
being a ship's captain
playing first violin for the London Symphony Orchestra
"The distinction between academic and vocational, or professional and other, is illogical, unhelpful and destructive.
"It is so often made simply to mask what we believe might be shameful if said directly: that I personally would rather be a stock-broker than an able seaman, and that I would rather have my child playing first violin for the LSO than laying bricks."
Cabinet-makers such as Viscount Linley - a photographer's son - produced work so expensive only the rich could afford it, were highly successful and would never wish to be anything else.
"I have never yet met a cabinet-maker, a photographer, a web designer, a graphic artist, a plumber, a builder, electrician who appeared troubled by problems of low self-esteem, although I know several who are greatly troubled by the need to reduce their tax bill," Dr Boston said.
Secondly, the vocational curriculum had to be rooted in current industrial practice.
"That means that industry must be drawn into shaping the school curriculum in a range of vocational areas, just as universities have been the genesis of the curriculum in other areas."
Before joining the QCA last year Dr Boston was managing director of technical and further education and director-general of education and training in New South Wales.
He said students there could count vocational subjects towards university admissions, so they had "a choice of two clear pathways".
His third condition was the need for "inspirational" teachers.
In New South Wales, substantial numbers of teachers in areas of over-supply were retrained for vocational subjects - a mistake.
"Many of the teachers were disaffected, none of them had industry experience, in the main they attracted to their classes similarly disaffected children," he said.
The solutions were to bring in teachers from further education, with industry experience, to move school students into FE colleges for part of the week, and to make it attractive for people in industry to teach part-time.
"These things contributed substantially to a real lift in the profile of vocational education in schools, which began to attract the brighter students rather than just those who could not cope with the academic stream."
Fourthly, there had to be much greater flexibility in school and college timetables and the shared use of industrial standard facilities and teaching staff.
In Australia, growing numbers of students spent three days a week in school, one day in an FE college, and one day in the workplace as a paid employee.
For example, Toyota agreed to have four students in each of its dealerships, doing vocational qualifications in automotive practice, small business, and sales and marketing.
Woolworths did something similar in baking or meat processing.
Teachers reported that the self-esteem and motivation of disaffected young people had soared.
"It has become fashionable to wear the Toyota uniform or checked baker's trousers to school."
Finally, "significant investment" was needed to provide incentives for business and industry.
"I won't dwell on that final point, but it is perhaps even more critical than the others," Dr Boston said.
The whole issue of 14 to 19 education is being looked at by a taskforce headed by the former chief schools inspector, Mike Tomlinson.