More confusion on social mobility

Roger Titcombe's picture

See this article in the Guardian of 8 April 2016

The article argues that the problem is poor career advice for those that do not stay on in full time education post-16

"Social mobility in Britain is hampered by a “culture of inequality” that penalises school leavers who enter the workforce rather than higher education, according to a parliamentary report.

An investigation by the House of Lords committee on social mobility called for radical revisions to the content of schooling from the age of 14, to better prepare teenagers who do not go on to university for the world of work.

“The current system for helping people move from school to work is failing most young people,” said Lady Corston, who chaired the committee. “They are simply not being adequately prepared for the world of work. This significantly disadvantages a huge number of young people and limits their opportunity for social mobility.”

So we are back to streaming school students at 14. This is a popular but very bad idea. It assumes that a school student who identifies as 'not academic' at age 14 has permanently restricted academic potential. It is the tacit assumption of fixed intelligence conferred at birth. See this article about 'Plastic Intelligence'. 

School students should not be making irrevocable career choices at 14. How many people have the same ambitions at 18 or 21 that they had in the second term of Y9 when these decisions are presumably to be made?

Janet Downs points out the dangers of UTCs here

It does not require separate vocational colleges for this very bad idea to infect our school system. 11-18 schools could indeed divide their pupils into separate academic and vocational streams at 14 or even earlier as seems to the suggestion. I am a fan of banded admissions driven by CATs, as in Hackney, but not if the bands are used to designate students as academic or vocational streams. 

However the 14-18 baccalaureate idea has many sound educational attractions but only on the basis of a radically different approach to the structure and assessment of four-year linear courses.

A new KS4/5 must be both developmental and inspirational. A student may, in the course of personal development, be inspired to choose a completely different career and life-path to that which she envisaged in March/April of Y9. Section 5.7 of 'Learning Matters' contains some very radical ideas about how this could fit into a 14-18 curricum. 

The weakest part of the argument suggests that there is something wrong with our school students rather than with fundamental aspects of our economy that result in the creation of really horrible, low skilled, low productivity jobs, doing little to protect and expand those parts of the economy that do provide high skilled, well payed jobs. The Port Talbot steelworks crisis of April 2016 is just the latest example.

This article about the prospects for school leavers in 1936, at the height of the great depression, shows how much worse the prospects for many of our school leavers have become since then!

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Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 08/04/2016 - 13:44

I was shouting at the radio when I heard the interviewee (Lady Corston?) say pupils should choose vocational or academic at age 14.  This is too young to make such a decision.  Most other developed countries have a broad, balanced curriculum up to ages 15 or 16 and then, and only then, are decisions made about progression to upper secondary (starting age 16 in the UK).

She rightly criticised the dire quality of careers advice in English schools.  This is a scandal following years of neglect, interference and deprofessionalization of the careers service.   She said schools in England weren't providing pupils with the skills employers need.

Leave aside the argument that education is more than preparation for employment (albeit an important part), an initiative began in the mid 1980s which raised the profile of vocational education, the quality of careers education and guidance, and which allowed pupils to gain generic work-related skills via such activities as work experience, mock interviews, industry days etc.  It was called the Technical and Vocational Education Initiative (TVEI).  It was so successful that even private, fee-chargng schools began offering such activities.

But TVEI has disappeared and we are in a worse state re vocational education and careers guidance than before TVEI.  But the answer isn't to require pupils to choose between academic and  job-specific vocational courses at 14.  The academic route will inevitably be chosen by more advantaged children while vocational courses at 14 will be regarded as something for other people's children.

All pupils need a broad, balanced currriculum to 16.  No dropping of subjects after Year 9.  At the same time, all pupils need activities which foster generic work-related skills.  Even the high-flying academic ones will need to find a job eventually.  Update TVEI and roll it out nationally.

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