Bringing Education & Work Closer Together

This is the full text of a letter partially published in the Society section of “The Guardian” Newspaper on 22nd November 2006.

Dear Sir

Peter Inson’s perceptive article (“Work Ethics” 15/11/06) on the issue of the young people who drop out of school because they have positive alternatives hits the nail on the head in all but one respect. He seems to suggest that schools should waive goodbye to youngsters such as Charlie at an early age and accept they will be lost to the system. My contention is that we need radical alternatives which mix the worlds of education and work within the system, not outside it. There is a growing acknowledgement that young people who leave school at 16 and go straight into low skilled, low paid jobs without training are simply storing up problems for themselves and society in the future. Government is trying various strategies to persuade employers to offer this group some form of skills development and progression. Why, therefore, condemn even younger people to dead end jobs with no prospects?

Young people are growing up earlier than they used to, and it is evident that the National Curriculum fails to offer very much which accords with the interests and aptitudes of a considerable part of the secondary school cohort. Consequently, rather than pushing these young people out of the system, educationalists have a moral duty to effect lasting changes to the system which address this deficiency. Moves which have been made towards introducing more vocational provision into schools must be welcomed, but they have gone nowhere near far enough. Vocational options are still seen as largely peripheral to schools’ mainstream missions, they are still seen as second class options by both students and teachers, and parents, in particular, often see vocational studies as closing off their children’s options for the future.

The education system needs to grasp the nettle and create facilities which offer a more adult environment for those youngsters who are ready to enter the adult world. These new kinds of schools need to be small and focused on clear missions, and they need to have an aura about them which means that young people will see them as somewhere to aspire to. Employers need to stop complaining about the inability of the education system to produce the kinds of employees they need, and get deeply involved in shaping the offer of such institutions so it meets their needs. Small steps are being made in this direction in some parts of the country, but, with “Building Schools for the Future” spending billions on new schools, we are in danger of missing the opportunity to make a lasting difference to the futures of millions of young people.

Finally, I welcome “Society Guardian” bringing this issue to public attention, but I have to ask why “Society Guardian” and not “Education Guardian” on a Tuesday? As someone who works in the field where education and regeneration cross over, I read both. But many people do not, and I think this is indicative of the lack of serious attention given to this issue in some parts of the education system. It seems that those who focus on society’s problems are having to consider again how to deal with an issue not tackled effectively by the majority of schools.

Yours faithfully

John Popham
Consultant in Education, Training, and Regeneration

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