In a flash of blazing logic, the work and pensions secretary has reasoned that, if future generations of workers are being starved of good careers advice, he’s going to send Job Centre staff into the classrooms to deliver it direct.
For years schools have been failing on the legal obligation to provide young people with good careers advice and this is extremely serious. Teachers tell pupils they must study hard, pass exams, GCSEs, AS and A-levels, etc, but there’s very little discussion as to what they are going to actually do with their lives and exactly how some of these generic, non-career related subjects will actually help them in the world of work.
We have to look at the fundamentals of our education system and seriously consider the validity of some of the content of the subjects that are taught. As well as the challenge of getting our young people work-ready, for which they need other skills to make them life-ready.
For example, once you’ve gone past the basics of maths that get us all through life, wouldn’t the ability to understand things like mortgage applications and car loan APRs be of better use than quadratic equations?
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It looks to me like the whole system is geared to get as many young people as possible off school premises, with sufficient grades to get into a university or college course.
And while the aim of the system has changed over the generations, the scandal of what happens in schools has remained. I left school at 15, and would have left at 14 if I could, because what they were teaching wasn’t giving me the skills I needed to get the job I wanted. I did that off my own back and got an apprenticeship.
And in 21st century Britain, nothing much has changed. Once the names of the 15, 16 and 17 year-olds no longer need to be called at morning registration, the tricky business of helping them choose a career becomes someone else’s problem.
This is as much a tragedy as it is a travesty, as young minds need guidance, and, for many the extra three years of drifting puts them at a much higher risk of becoming NEET (not in education, employment or training).
How do I know this? Because one of the questions I routinely ask anyone under the age of 25 is if anyone gave them much help and encouragement when it came to thinking about a career. The answer is usually “no”, and that’s even more certain when I ask if they were given information on the option of choosing an apprenticeship.
Truth is teachers by definition are generally university educated people and most carry all the prejudices or their profession, which leads them to believe that the good life only comes after one gets a degree.
And for the few who understand that one size does not fit all, they simply don’t have the knowledge to offer good non-university careers advice.
Iain Duncan Smith’s Job Centre initiative clearly proves the government’s commitment to creating three million new apprentices by the end of the current parliament.
And I also think that when you take this policy, together with skills minister Nick Boles’ plan for apprentices, and former apprentices, to go back into their old schools to educate the next generation of skilled workers, it’s clear that there is a coherent strategy in play here.