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New Year, new role

With the start of a new year and a new term, I have moved to take-up a new role as Careers Leader at Milton Keynes College.

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It’s new role in the College staffing structure as the team look to meet and surpass all of the Gatsby requirements for Further Education Colleges.

So, over the forthcoming months this blog will still continue (although perhaps a little more sporadically) with a Further Education and Secondary CEIAG focus.

I hope that 2019 will bring you the challenges and successes that you desire!

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My book journey of 2018

I really enjoyed looking back over my 2017 reading list about this time last year so here’s this year’s edition!

  1. Think Small; the surprisingly simple ways to reach big goals – Owain Service & Rory Gallagher (2017)

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Which I posted about here.

2. The Glorious Cause: The American Revolution – Robert Middlekauff (2007)

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The history of the United States fascinates me as it is a nation I can still see evolving today. From the debate over the 2nd Amendment and it’s applicability to a time of assault rifles to the legacy of slavery and it’s implications still on the life chances of Americans of colour, this is history with a pulse. The Oxford History of the United States series of which this was the first edition, is a wonderful collection of superbly researched and written books. This is right up there with the best as Middlekauff covers the build up to, the battles within and the settling dust of the Revolution. Giants of nation building and war craft such John Adams (about which there is an excellent HBO drama series covering much of the same period), George Washington and Benjamin Franklin all play their part in the drama and the monumental decisions they take is given the context for you to really appreciate the scale of the tasks they set themselves. Glorious stuff indeed.

3. The Nix – Nathan Hill (2016)

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A long but fairly diverting novel following a number of separate but not so separate stories of a range of characters including a failed writer, reconnecting with mother after 20 years to use her news worthiness to grab a new publishing deal but instead hearing about her counter-culture protesting days in the 60s. I enjoyed it, but the characters haven’t stayed with me.

4. Breaking Bad 101: The Complete Critical Companion – Alan Sepinwall (2017)

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After finishing the (outstanding) show I ripped through this stocking filler book really quickly as it covers, episode by episode, the behind the scenes and writing background for each and provides some interesting titbits about the making of the show.

5. The Explorers: Stories of Discovery and Adventure from the Australian Frontier – Tim Flannery (2000)

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The most disappointing book of the year. After travelling through Australia in the early 2000s, I have been fascinated with the explorers who saw such a huge , undiscovered country and thought to themselves, “Yep, I’ll walk across that.” This is a compendium of first source writings that cover many expeditions across various parts of the massive continent and, while some offer glimpse into the hardships and sense of a disappearing wilderness, in total I was left wanting. I felt that I had not gained an insight into the sense of wonder, trepidation or bravery that those explorers sensed as they first stepped into the un-mapped and the unknown.

6. The Nightingale – Kristin Hannah (2015)

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Reminiscent in tone and subject matter to another WWII novel, All the Light we Cannot See, The Nightingale follows the traumatic tales of two sisters in war-torn France as they, in their own different ways, do what they need to survive through the German occupation. About a third of the way in to the book I remember still feeling skeptical about it as it felt more of a Hallmark movie than a serious novel but, by the end, I was a blubbing mess praying that someone, anyone left in story would find a glimmer of happiness.

7. Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI – David Grann (2017)

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Soon to be filmed by Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio, this is a history book that is so utterly outlandish in the unfairness, corruption and depravity of human nature it describes that, even now, I struggle to believe the story it tells is true. The terribly sad thing is though that the story of what happened to the Osage people after oil was discovered on their Government given land in the 1920s certainly happened. A brilliantly crafted work.

8. Lincoln in the Bardo – George Saunders (2017)

I tackled the 2017 Man Booker prize winner not knowing what to expect as many reviews had commented on the “experimental” nature to the book and was left extremely moved by some passages (particularly as the broken Abraham Lincoln visits his dead son’s grave in the dead of the night to say his final goodbyes) but mostly finished nonplussed by the ethereal nature of the prose and the setting.

9. Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era – James M. McPherson (1988)

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More US history from the Oxford Press series but this time concentrating on the fight amongst themselves. This is a simply wonderful book, perhaps the best in the series I’ve read yet. The scholarship on display to present so many sources into a coherent narrative is amazing and the history breathes because of it. Both the motivations and areas of disagreement of the North and the South are presented fairly and such that the reader can see why they believed they were standing up for the “freedom” described in the Constitution. There are no easy villains or heroes here. The slow movement towards the unthinkable of civil war is captured brilliantly as are the giants of Lincoln, Grant and Robert E.Lee.

10. The Bellwether Revivals – Benjamin Wood (2012)

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A slight novel about a mismatched group of friends in Cambridge following them as they fall in love, deal with a family member’s delusional behaviour and battle with the implications of their own disparate upbringings. I liked it but didn’t love it.

11. Pure – Andrew Miller (2011)

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A book that had been on my reading list for a long time and one that delivered when I finally got around to reading it. A cracking novel of intrigue, love, friendships and unwilling heroes as an engineer, Jean-Baptiste Baratte, is tasked with clearing the overflowing and putrid Les Innocents cemetery in Paris in 1786. It’s a novel that conjures the atmosphere of the world it is describing before you while also hinting at bigger themes and events beyond the page (the spectre of the soon to come Revolution hangs over everything).

12. How Music Got Free: What happens when an entire generation commits the same crime? – Stephen Witt (2015)

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An interesting look at four different true stories that encapsulated the reasons, actions and impacts of the death of physical format music and the rise of piracy in the late 90s. We follow an employee at a CD pressing plant who became the most significant leaker of new music, the file sharing collectives who raced to be the first and the best at getting pirated music out there, the creator of the MP3 whose engineering genius and commercial tenacity enabled the whole format transition and the record company executive who learned to adapt through this chaotic market. As an ex record store employee, this book was an interesting insight into a story I thought I knew but clearly didn’t.

13. The Dark Net: Inside the Digital Underworld – Jamie Bartlett (2014)

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Another non-fiction book, this one looking at how the dark web enables anonymous trading, communication and collaboration across the globe. Reading in 2018 its sections on cryptocurrencies , trolling and 4chan already seem a little dated as these areas moved into the mainstream news after the Brexit and Trump votes.

14. Mountains of the Moon – IJ Kay (2012)

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This novel wasn’t one I enjoyed. It has it’s moments of tenderness and brilliant use of language as it follows a young lady through various stages of her tough life always narrated in her own voice. Through the sections following her as a child this stylistic technique allows for some gut wrenching moments as too late you realise the severity of the traumatic scenes being described but overall so much of the text is simply expendable.

15. The Careers Leader Handbook: How to create an outstanding careers programme for your school or college – Tristram Hooley & David Andrews (2018)

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Which I posted about here.

16. Disraeli or The Two Lives – Douglas Hurd & Edward Young (2014)

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An engrossing look at a politian who, in many ways, broke the mould of the time (his Jewish heritage, his less than salubrious or honest youth) and yet is held up today as a beacon of statemenship when, at his pomp, he was more respected for the sharpness of his Parliamentary take downs. I enjoyed learning about a period of history that I now want to delve further into.

17. The Making of the British Landscape – Nicholas Crane (2016)

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I finished the year with yet another history book but one that looks at past events through a different lens. By concentrating on the changes (both man made and natural) to the landscape and climate of Britain, Crane is able to present a history of these isles like no other I’ve read. The sheer amount of change the land has accured is staggering and tests your imagination as first you are taken back 1000s of years to before these isles became isles. The impact of hunting, of the initial attempts at agriculture and the medium term changes in climate all have their impact on the land. The mysterious landscaping of these peoples as they bury their dead, protect their lands and throw up the odd henge or two is decoded all thousands of years before The Romans and their frantic building schemes arrived. Onwards, the Black Death, enclosure and the Industrial revolution, all leave their indelible mark on the landscape. A brilliant book that left me bereft at all that has been lost in our landscape never to be reclaimed.

So, that was my 2018 reading journey. I’m midly impressed at myself for getting through 17 books and will hope to conquer a similar amount in 2019!

My book journey of 2017

Stealing an idea from the excellent Laura McInerney, here is the list of books that I consumed through 2017

  1. The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History – Elizabeth Kolbert (2014)

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A fascinating take on the disaster facing many species around the world as they deal with a contended man-made or “sixth” extinction event currently occurring. Not a cheering read as the impact of human expansion and disinterest in how our species impacts others is laid bare. The predicted loss of between 20% to 50% of all living species on the planet by the end of the 21st Century is hugely sobering. The mix of author travelogue and scientific analysis is very well done.

2. The Good Immigrant – edited by Nikesh Shukla (2016)

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An unflinching and demanding series of essays that force the reader to consider how immigrants of colour are perceived by mainstream British society and media. The impossible balancing act of trying to please a society that demands assimilation but will forever distinguish ‘otherness’ is highlighted by each author, some focusing on their own stories and family history, others on the wider societal clashes of having to conform to a stereotype not requested by individuals. I’ll admit, some of the essays seemed trite or lacking in weight to me but I hope that was only because of the sheer brilliance of some of the work. “Airports and Auditions” by Riz Ahmed in particular, was breathtaking in laying bare the contradictions we demand.

3. Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow – Yuval Noah Harari (2017)

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A kind of road map of the human journey of the future, Harari looks at what humans have found important throughout our history and how those interests will shape our tomorrow. The talent of humans to find meaning in our collective experiences and constructs but also to place importance on the desires of the individual are forces that will drive our progress towards medical advancements in living longer or automation and artificial intelligence. Harari is a clever man but I found the book attempted to cover too much, the themes too big for the message to have any real impact. It reminded me of Gleick’s The Information as the central ideas of the book seemed too big for the author to wrestle under control.

3. Television: A biography – David Thomson (2016)

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Thomson is one of my favourite writers on film and I loved his previous mix of media and personal history, Moments that Made the Movies (2013). This, unfortunately did not live up to me expectations though as many of the touchstone television series or moments focused on are very American (Lucille Ball for example) and the personal stories seemed more jumbled up. The joining thread in previous books isn’t there and the whole project could have done with a firmer hand by his publisher.

4. Frozen in Time: An Epic Story of Survival and a Modern Quest for Lost Heroes of World War II – Mitchell Zuckoff (2013)

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After previously devouring Unbroken (2010), I was on the look out for another book that illustrated the remarkable true stories of survival and perseverance in World War 2. I wasn’t disappointed with Frozen in Time, the truly amazing story of two US planes that crashed into Greenland in 1942, the epic survival of (some of) the crews for 148 days on the glacier and the 2012 mission to locate one of the rescue planes that went looking for the crews only to also crash into the ice. The feats of endurance are remarkable and, while at times it’s difficult to keep track of which crew or rescue or location is being discussed, the narrative is kept driving on for the reader to truly care about each man and their outcome. An astonishing tale of human spirit.

5. The North Water – Ian McGuire (2016)

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Apparently continuing my need to feel frozen, I then moved onto a novel set in the violent and gruesome 19th Century whaling industry. The novel follows the misadventures of a harpoon ship called the Volunteer and the men abroad each with their own dark histories particularly Sumner the doctor and Drax, a seaman with a heart of darkness. The book is bloody and filthy in places, not scrimping in its descriptions of the work of whaling or the evil actions of its protagonists but, through the horror comes a character that you do end up rooting for. A man willing to put the effort into surviving but also attempting to hold onto a shred of decency and moral goodness through it all. A brutal but worthy read.

6. The Bone Clocks – David Mitchell (2014)

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As a massive fan of his earlier novels number9dream (2001) and The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet (2010), I was looking forward to this almost Neil Gaiman like story. Mixing mundane reality with fantasy and otherworldly aspects such as immortal warriors and psychic abilities is tricky to pull off and I never felt totally comfortable that this novel achieved this. Other readers who might be more enthusiastic fans of fantasy might disagree but, for all the clever jumps in time across the chapters, I could never quite shake off the feeling that this was a little silly.

7. The Crusades: The War for the Holy Land – Thomas Asbridge (2010)

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A wonderful work of historical non-fiction that manages to lead the reader through the Medieval period 1095-1291 and multitude of characters, faiths and empires that battled across the Levant for control of religious sites and trading routes. As well as being a fascinating period of history, The Crusades now have modern connotations placed upon them and Asbridge is excellent at cutting through the noise to describe the motivations of the main players and the historical detail that illuminates the period. Major characters of history such as Saladin and Richard the Lionheart are painted with the precise pen of author who has done the research and is able to humanize these giants of history. The individual motivations of leaders, the internal politics of both the Franks and the numerous Islamic sects and the religious zeal of many of the crusaders is all discussed to paint the complex picture the period deserves.

8. Work Like Any Other – Virginia Reeves (2016)

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The book I finish 2017 reading is a novel telling the story of a farmer in 1920’s Alabama caught siphoning off electricity from the grid when a tragic accident occurs. It’s a thin book that failed to grab me like other spare, sparsely written novels. The story seems stretched over its pages, the tale of Roscoe T. Martin, a quiet man, is perhaps too quiet for its own good with too much unsaid for an emotional impact or resonance with this reader.

So that was my 2017 reading, it strikes me that I haven’t actually got through many this year and will have to improve my numbers in 2018.

The blame game

In a speech earlier this week (note; speech, not the publication of the actual delayed careers strategy) the Skills Minister, Robert Halfon outlined his intentions for CEIAG under his watch.

The venue the Minister decided to use for this speech about careers advice, the parity of vocational routes and the importance of Apprenticeships was Westminster Academy because,

It is worth noting though that the school, while achieving some outstanding Progress 8 scores in it’s 2016 academic results, failed to get any students to progress into Apprenticeships at 16 in 2014 (the most recent destination data available) and the % of pupils staying in education, employment and training was below both the Local Authority and National averages.

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The Minister outlined his vision of an all age Careers offer, said that the long promised careers strategy would come later in 2017 and that CEIAG formed an important part of the recently published Industrial Strategy. He also, as a representative of a Government that has been in power at least in Coalition for 6 years, blamed Headteachers for the poor state of CEIAG provision in schools.

He questioned the variability between organisations, stating: “I do not believe it is just a question of funding, but how a school chooses to spend its funding.

“Schools that deliver high quality careers advice do not do so because they have a greater share of the pot, but because they see it as a vitally important future part for their pupils.”

which is a position which does have an element of truth. Headteachers are budget holders who do have freedom to spend on priorities. What provision can count as a ‘priority’ though needs to be placed within the context of the overall budget envelope.

So here is that context:

The £200m annual funding and wider structure to support careers work in schools was cut and the responsibility without the funding for provision was moved onto schools.

The expected levels of provision that schools should be offering from current budgets would cost around £186m with £181m of that to be found annually. The £90m promised for Careers (mainly the Careers & Enterprise Company) across the 5 years of this parliament, pales in comparison.

Yet current school budgets are under huge pressure. The stories from individual Headteacher’s about crumbling, unfit for purpose buildings and cutting not only support but even teaching staff are tough to read.

Surveys of teachers report that 80% say their school has made cutbacks or is planning to.

These anecdotal reports are bad enough but it is the overall figures that I find staggering.

In December, the National Audit Office concluded that schools will need to find £3bn of savings by 2020 which will equate to an 8% real terms funding cut or a loss of over £400,000 to the average secondary school.

And this will be on top of a period of 6 years of previous cuts during which schools have already been reducing their spending on teaching staff.

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Budget holders are clear, all that can be cut has been and now staffing is on the chopping block.

If budgets are so squeezed that numbers of teaching staff are being reduced when pupils numbers are not falling then, when the Minister complains that Heads are choosing not to spend their funding on CEIAG provision, he is failing to acknowledge the reality in schools.

It was even telling that, on the same day as a speech including a vision for all age careers support, consultations were published proposing the closure of 78 Jobcentres across the country.

In this climate, the pleas from Unison that any universal careers service is

  • is properly resourced with a stable funding system;

seem from another age entirely.

Taking Headteachers to task for not spending their budgets on CEIAG provision when they are cutting such fundamentals as teaching staff and building maintenance seems a tad delusional.

 

 

A change…

This blog has a change of title as I have moved to a new position with a new employer. In time, the focus of posts here will also concentrate and reflect more on Careers IAG in the FE and, perhaps even, HE sector. School level work will no doubt still get a look in as I will remain interested in the Careers climate in that sector as well.

I’ve also had a change of twitter handle to:

https://twitter.com/FECareersIAG

so, if you know of any FE Careers practitioners, please link them onto the site and I hope they get in touch!

I hope everyone has a wonderful Christmas and a great start to 2017!

Russell