I’m not a teacher so I’m not a member of a teaching (or any) Union so usually, while I’m aware of their valuable point of view on the UK education landscape, even their strikes haven’t affected me. The recent NUT action didn’t shut my school and, now that we’re in our 4th year of the Coalition Government, some members are becoming increasingly mystified about the direction of protest of their Union but mainly they don’t seem to have taken an interest in CEIAG in schools. That is until I saw some quotes from their Head of Education, Ros McNeil in this piece about Businesses running Careers workshops caught my eye.
The BAE scheme mentioned is a fantastic example of similar schemes run by companies for schools all over the country with the key elements of direct engagement with the employees, an introduction to jobs and areas of work perhaps the youngsters had very little realistic knowledge of and clear links to the lessons and curriculum they are studying to show the value of what they are learning.
The article itself can’t help but build a black and white picture that companies are suddenly filling the vacuum left by the loss of Connexions to suddenly get into schools to run workshops (many have been for years and continue to do so where the regional versions of Connexions are struggling on) and that, like Michael Gove’s simplistic take on the value of Careers workers, this has to be a ‘either or’ situation. Ms McNeil’s first point is a practical one on this theme that schools do need to consider:
“Schools just receive too much information from myriad companies and I think heads are feeling overwhelmed. It is almost impossible to navigate what is good for a school,” she says.
but one to which I’m duty bound to offer a solution.
Though it’s her second contribution that I’m concerned with:
McNeil would like to see a greater public debate about the role of companies in schools. The NUT sees employers “as key partners of schools”, McNeil says, but would have concerns if they were drawing up lesson materials. “If companies are producing curriculum resources and getting access to schools to have their brand known by schoolchildren and to be able to bring that angle in, I think we would have significant concerns about that.”
This concern about the ulterior motives of companies to spread their brand recognition has good intentions but is surely misguided. To begin with it shows a distinct lack of understanding of what is already happening in schools as lesson materials are already produced by companies and used by teachers and, in specialised cases like Studio Schools, the teachers are working with companies to design large parts of the curriculum but, centrally, it is the desire to protect children from the preying vultures of corporations that misses the point of CEIAG work by a country mile.
As much as you might want them to, schools don’t exist in sealable bubbles.
They deal with young minds who come from their environments and at the end of each day, send them back out into that society. Each and every lesson, teachers deal with young people that piggyback into the classroom the positives and negatives of their outside world experience be they the overseeing eyes of interested parents, the legacies of Snapchat bullying or the after effects of the energy drink they necked on the walk in. Any teacher that has seen the emotional crater left when confiscating an iPhone or some Beats headphones will know that brands and corporate messages are another important strand of these wider influences. Yet it is also naive to treat young people as merely consumers in training as there are popular cultural messages highly valued by them which have anti corporate messages or values.
The corporate world is the world they already inhabit, are already making decisions about and will have to work in throughout their lives. Surely one of the benefits of CEIAG is that by utilising companies in Career learning in schools we are taking control of how young people begin to learn and understand about the companies behind those brands and the difference between marketing and reality. We can have a say over how some of those early interactions take place and where the value of them is focused. CEIAG offers us the chance to fulfill exactly the regulatory role Ms McNeil wants. It is about young people learning how to take control of their own futures and not be purely powerless end users at the ebb and flow of the needs of business and the labour market. It offers them the chance to see the strings behind the puppet and become all the more powerful as a result. As Neil Carberry of the CBI puts it, “”Business and education are looking for the same thing: a young person who can navigate their way in the 21st century.” CEIAG is the map and compass we can give them.