Month: May 2013

Is this an education?

Thought I’d reblog this post as there’s a lot there for Careers advisers who will know this story well. The tensions between student knowledge of the consequences of Year 9 option choices, the wish for a broad curriculum and the pressures on schools to meet targets which then shape the KS4 routes on offer to groups of students. I also think it’s a realistic example of how lots of IAG happens in schools.

Make good careers advice

Earlier in the week I had the pleasure of seeing the video of Neil Gaiman’s 2012 Commencement address to the University of the Arts in Philadephia.

And throughout the week, I’ve found myself going back, re watching and admiring new parts of it all over again.

Because it’s so rich, so full of advice to young people who are not only standing on that precipice of ‘career’ but those young people who want to stand on the even more dizzyingly sheer edge of that path called ‘arts career’.

Gaiman eloquently uses his own experiences for those graduates in front of him as a spur to strive towards their own “distant mountain,” as advice on how to survive in a freelance world, on how to find their own voice and finally, as a plea to “make good art.”

The whole speech fits in with a lot of my recent thinking that some of my discussions with students interested in creative careers need to be braver. Not because of some deviant wish on my part to subvert the party line (“now, lets consider a back up plan”) but because some of those young people are just too damn talented to be sold short and be made to feel that their horizons are being constricted.

Speeches like this, delivered with such rhetoric skill, can be a real tool in an kit to entice debate from students about their career ideas and where they see their path leading them to. 

LMI isn’t a short cut to crushing dreams

Labour Market Intelligence has always been a strange beast for people who deliver IAG to wrestle with. At what point during a client’s impassioned description of how the cash will soon be rolling in from the Youtube views of his stop motion animation videos (actual example) should you raise your hand, clear your throat and kick down the door of this (sometimes scarily) well thought out vision to let in the cold light of reality?

An article in SecEd this week called “Is University the best preparation for the future?” by the Head of an independent girls school bemoaned that this conversation doesn’t happen often enough and we need to stop the treadmill of students into HE courses which do not lead to employment.

She recounts listening to a radio program about 3 recent graduates in who were all struggling to find employment in their chosen fields of study.

A recent radio programme focused on the efforts to find employment of three out of work young people. One had a degree in journalism with media and cultural studies, another a degree in drama in the community, and the third had a diploma in ocean science. All had very specialised qualifications, which appeared to relate to specific jobs and careers, but their courses were so specialised that they may actually have closed doors, not opened them.

Most news organisations recruit students with high-quality degrees in subjects such as English or history and politics, augmented by a post-graduate journalism course. Arts in the community have been badly affected by spending cuts and many organisations are now staffed by volunteers. And a diploma in ocean science does not carry the kudos of a science degree. These young people had applied for huge numbers of jobs without success; all were working as volunteers in some capacity, but growing increasingly disheartened. One wonders what careers advice or guidance they had received

It’s that last sentence which crystallizes a lot of recent comment about LMI and it’s use with learners trying to pick their way through the ever complex array of routes out of education and into employment. This expectation is that, if those students had heard the right advice and been made aware of the prevailing winds of the job market, they would never have chosen those HE courses and never have have dared to dream the dream of working in journalism or studying the wet stuff that covers 70% of the planet.

But I think that’s a misleading assumption of what LMI could do and the role it can play in guidance.

It doesn’t have to be a roadblock. It doesn’t have to be a dissuasive element to certain career areas. It doesn’t have to be the end of an aspiration.

It can be the ignition for a new possibility. It can be a door opener for a new direction but it also can be, for those careers mentioned above on that radio show and many like them whose future employment numbers will be decreasing, a clear indicator of the barriers that will have to be overcome to achieve success. It can be a motivating influence to those students to work harder, achieve better qualifications, network more and gain more work experience to rise above the large number of competitors for a smaller number of jobs.

Would those students say that they went into their HE courses with their eyes open to the test of finding connected employment afterwards? I don’t know, but it doesn’t necessarily follow that LMI would or should have stopped them running up that particular hill.

LMI can be a positive influence on career choice and should be celebrated for it. 

Westminster Hall debate on the Careers report for young people = meh


This afternoon I managed to catch bits of a Westminster Hall debate by MP’s that concentrated on the Education Select Committee report on Careers guidance for young people and the subsequent Government response.

It was heartening to see the majority of the members of the Education Committee present, including the Chair Graham Stuart, and the Minister for Skills Matthew Hancock. It was positive to see MP’s from outside the Committee also there such as Simon Hughes who I remember speaking vigorously in defence of careers guidance for young people in a debate in the Commons in September 2012. It was positive to note that the loss of a statutory need for Careers education and work related learning was also covered by the speakers.

It was not, however, positive to hear the dismissive conclusion given to the debate by Matthew Hancock.

Mr Hancock sat, sometimes scribbling determinedly, through lengthy and repetitive speeches from MPs from across the party divide that all condemned the Government response to their inquiry. He listened as even Graham Stuart, Conservative member for Beverley and Holderness, interjected into speeches to reinforce the conclusions of others that the loss of funding and the poor design of the statutory regulation had caused a decline in the quality of IAG and that, even in the pockets of the country such as Bradford where collaborative working was attempting to offer a service, it was still a shadow of what was and what could have been.

Those who have followed this whole drawn out process know those arguments. Those that have watched the evidence sessions and read the written submissions and kept up to date with the blog commentary and read the actual report and the following response know those arguments.

Within a few moments of phaff from Mr Hancock about “determination and inspiration” and “role models” those arguments were dismissed and the members were shuffled out of the room ready for the next session leaving the Government free to continue the course set.

To see such evidence and weight of comment fall onto predetermined deaf ears is so disheartening. It’s stuff like this that makes even interested and committed onlookers disengage with politics.

The build up to Work Experience

In almost a month’s time our corridors and classrooms will seem a little quieter as we send out our entire Year 10, almost 200 students, out into the world for two weeks work experience.

At this stage of the process it’s still a fluid, moving machine with some students still to organise placements, a lot of interviews to arrange and, I’m sure, a few last minute twists and turns to come.

To help prepare the students for the new and different world they are about to be submersed into for a fortnight we, alongside assemblies, essentially run three lessons for them.

  1. Employees rights & responsibilities

Tasks: The students are given a generic employee/employer contract and complete a question sheet about the contract. They are also presented with a number of scenarios about work problems and asked to make a judgement on the employee or the complaint and feedback to the class.

Aim of lesson: To encourage the students to contemplate the balance between their rights but also their responsibilities in the workplace and to be prepared for what is expected from their conduct.

  1. Health & Safety in the workplace

Tasks: The class watch a few “no win, no fee” adverts and discuss the issues around personal responsibility versus the right to work in a safe environment. In pairs they then complete a “5 steps to risk assessment” worksheet for the classroom and immediate area which will lead to some fairly mundane results. The class then watch

and go through exactly the same 5 step process to consider what has been down to limit the risks involved in such an event.

Finally the class look over and compare/contrast some actual risk assessments from placements from previous years.

Aim of lesson: To reinforce that, in some of the working environments the young people are about to enter, actions can have serious consequences and that risk is never eliminated, just reduced by sensible decisions.

  1. Last minute talk/Networking

Tasks: Teacher presents a bit of powerpoint with all of the last minute things students need to know; what to do if they are ill etc. Students are then given worksheets to help them define their current network of contacts who they could rely on for opportunities. Then, using or careersbox videos, they are shown a number of workers who achieved their job or career direction through such networks. Finally, using the example of the story of the twit-hiker, students are shown how large networks can have benefits.

Aim of lesson: After some practical stuff to get through, students are encouraged to consider how important networks can be and that success does not always come from a perfect track record of results but through building mutually beneficial relationships that aid career progression.

What I’m missing here is an employers take on this – a view from the receiving side of the fence about what they would like young people to be made aware of before they start their placements – and would appreciate any comments or input people have.

Quiet is the new loud

Writing a careers blog about Susan Cain’s book “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking” won’t stun the world with originality but, after reading it recently, there’s lot to take from it especially when approaching Careers work with young people.

A lot of young people are naturally reserved and awkward in new situations and so avoid those challenging moments or encounters, putting them off until they really have to. This can have a limiting effect on both the (career) taster opportunities they encounter in these formative years and thus the subsequent routes they would consider. The book reminded me that, for some of these students, this is a personality trait rather than a stage to grow out of.

Sections of the book compelled me to reflect on my own practice when working with those more reserved and introspective students. Those students who find quiet corners like tutor rooms to hide away at break times, who won’t seek out support but will accept it if you find them and offer it and those who will be the last to sign up to taster events as they had been putting off handing the permission slip in.

The students who need going to rather than waiting for them to come to you.

Schools are great environments to offer Careers advice. Through being involved in the wider life of the school you have the opportunity to get to know the young people better and, get this, the law means they literally have to come in every week day – Captive audience!

The downside to this setting though is that schools can be sometimes be frantic with movement and noise and resource light and time strapped so only those who ask receive all that they need.

In a an attempt to reflect the real world that rewards extroverts, schools also reward what Cain terms the “cult of personality” by appointing positions of responsibility such as Head Boys or Senior Prefects to those who are confident enough to apply and stand out. Participation in extra-curricular activities such as Duke of Edinburgh, trips or film clubs can be on a come along and sign up basis.

All of this may be in vain for these students though as Cain describes, “at school you might have been prodded to come ‘out of your shell’ – that noxious expression which fails to appreciate that some animals naturally carry shelter everywhere they go.”

The book has highlighted three areas of my practice to invigorate:

1) Take the time to encourage as many young people as possible to participate in extra-curricular activities, and not just careers ones, don’t just assume those that are interested attend.

Through this spread of opportunity young people might find something which sparks a lifetime of interest which follows Cain’s own advice on achieving career satisfaction:

3 key steps to identifying your own core projects –

  1. Think back to what you loved and why you loved it when you were a child

  2. pay attention to the work you gravitate to

  3. pay attention to what you envy”

2) Take the time to get around tutor groups to promote and follow up taster days and careers events, don’t just assume that an assembly presentation will get all those interested to step forward.

3) In face to face meetings, when appropriate, introduce action plan versions of individual “Free Trait Agreements,” for example, to encourage those introverts to speak to three exhibitors at the careers fair to find information or encourage those extroverts to take five minutes to sit at the side and actually read the prospectuses and leaflets they’ve rushed around to collect. 

A Further Word on Educational Inequality

Had to reblog – this is exactly the story of my school as well – 6 weeks before start date our BSF was cancelled and we are now waiting for a Priority Schools build to slowly, ever so slowly get moving

Laura McInerney

Yesterday I explained why inaccurate use of the term “educational inequality” makes me uneasy. But then I started thinking about a gross educational inequality that is hardly ever mentioned, and it made me madder and madder.

Here is the school building that the teachers and pupils of Rugby School see when they arrive to learn:


Here is the school building me and the pupils I taught saw:


Spot any differences?

Here is a corridor at Westminster School:

Westminster School by Ruggero Rossi (ruggaugga)) on
Westminster School by Ruggero Rossi

Here is the corridor my classroom was on. In one direction and then the other:



Yes the bucket was necessary for a roof leak.

Here is a classroom at the very expensive St. Paul’s School:


Here is the classroom I taught in during the second year (and a later year):



This second one looks great, until you realise that three of its wall are surrounded by the…

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