Long time, no grouse.

What a lovely seasonal title – although for fans of game hunting I’m afraid you’ll be left desperately short of the dark meat you so enjoy. No, no this is a much different sort of grouse,  it is of course the kind of mumbled accusations and mutterings you may also associate with this time of year, being as it is that seasonal highpoint of the studied midday drinker shot through with bubbling family resentment.

That being said, there is grousing to be done, and I have done it. Albeit this is a rehash of a previous grouse from some time ago but so little has changed that the issues remain largely indistinguishable. A sort of leftovers of a grouse if I am to insist on following this rather laboured meat/luncheon metaphor through, which I appear to be doing.

Anyway, this was something that appeared today in Northwich Independent Press, a rather pointed and accusatory open letter with fingers pointed squarely at many of the schools local to me who I know to be offering little more than brussel sprouts careers-advice wise, and, well you get the idea…

Charles Ponzi. Bernie Madoff. Benedict Arnold. Richard Nixon. Lance Armstrong. Some copper-bottomed, hall of fame, heavy weight champions of world class liars. Their very names are synonymous with deception, lies, fabrications, flights of fancy and half truths. Notably absent from that list is ‘every school in the UK’. However, and it’s a big ‘however’, this is a catastrophic omission that everyone has been complicit in.

Okay, maybe not ‘every’ school but certainly it’s true that from time immemorial the education system has been comprehensively failing to prepare their students with the skills, tools and knowledge to make informed choices about their futures. In lots of regards they are doing unthinkably hard work in the most pressured environment imaginable and I fervently believe that most of them are committed, engaged and dedicated but when it comes to the students’ futures there’s a huge blindspot. Unfortunately it’s that time of year where for many parents and teens they are starting to think very hard about those questions because UCAS time is here again and whether it’s uni, a gap year or an apprenticeship ducks need to be got in rows.

Too often students are corralled into university courses that serve only to line the universities’ pockets and boost the schools’ stats, there are generations of degree-qualified, directionless, unemployable young adults drifting from hairnet and name-tag to hairnet and name-tag in a series of jobs that on paper they should have left behind. Worthless degrees are almost a cottage industry in the UK and it’s been allowed to happen because of years of schools creating an atmosphere of rank terror that tells kids without a degree they may as well abandon all hope.

Of course degrees are wonderful and schools should rightly encourage ambition, but it’s surpassed that lofty goal and become a rote exercise in getting them out the door so they can pat themselves heartily on the backs and congratulate one another on a job well done. Three years after the fact when these poor, mis-sold kids emerge from Westminster University with a degree in David Beckham and £50 grand of debt it doesn’t affect their stats so why should they give a shit right?

Four years ago I crazily thought that people would care about this, that they would share my outrage so I asked the schools, the parents, the LEAs, the MP, the Northwich Guardian to try and help me raise awareness, I assumed that this is an issue that they would want to solve. Turns out they really didn’t. The schools were defensive, the parents in denial, the LEAs resigned, the MP ineffectual and the paper more interested in generating revenue than news. So now I rant in local magazines.

Working in recruitment and as an academic advisor I see both sides, I hear employers lament the lack of quality and I see schools making great claims about how wonderfully they’re performing, although the picture has improved a little since I started. Ofsted estimates about 70% of schools are failing to give the right quality and amount of help in careers advice, The Sutton Trust concurs, as does the DfE, the LEAs and employers. In fact the only people who disagree are the schools.

Where we live, the schools your children go to, I’ve emailed all of them many, many times over – mostly I’m ignored, occasionally I’m assured they do everything and even more rarely they’ll speak to me.  You see they don’t need help, they don’t know what it is I offer they just know that they don’t need it. Because they do it. Not with outside providers you understand, heaven forfend they actually engage experts in the field, no, no – they simply draw on the wellspring of their already overstretched faculty, who by the very nature of their profession, are only qualified to tell students about accessing a career in teaching. My business partner, a qualified teacher has taught in PRUs, public schools and the prestigious Ivy League, he holds qualifications in teaching English as a second language, the fundamentals of college counselling and a PhD from Columbia University and me with 15 years of getting people jobs, writing CVs, interview coaching, developing professional comportment and networking skills should quite rightly defer to a 23 year-old graduate who’s somehow ambled arse backwards into the position of Head of Careers. As well they should, given their background in teaching Geography.

Conversations I’ve had with schools in the area include gems like, ‘40% of our students go on to Russell Group universities.’ What about the 60% that don’t? I presume it must be even more exciting, so much so they couldn’t bring themselves to tell me. The Chair of Governors of a free school described our offering of careers and university advice as the ‘latest fad’. Yup, apparently preparing students for life after school is a passing whimsy. Without knowing what we can offer, the schools dismiss outside help without a second thought, such is either the level of arrogance or the wilful ignorance of how badly what they’re doing is regarded by anyone who actually knows what they should be doing. When we offered to host free seminars to let parents and students know they had options they would return to their blank-faced, unblinking menhir like ‘computer says no’ response. Unassailable, unreasonable and completely unwilling to loosen their stranglehold – the mentality seems to be one of, ‘I don’t care how badly we’re doing it, we mustn’t let anyone else try and do it better.’

We conducted a survey asking people their feelings on the provision available and what became clear was the amount of trust conferred to schools, trust that’s not been reinforced by facts or even anecdotal evidence just blind faith. We collectively have allowed them to enjoy this feted position as the guardians of our children’s futures and ceded responsibility but haven’t held them to account when it starts to unravel. They employ antiquated techniques, hangovers from a bygone era and hope that by giving kids access to a few links detailing what jobs exist they’re fulfilling their obligations. It’s beyond reckless, it’s negligent.

So what can be done? Lobby the schools, push them to explain how and why they feel a History teacher is the best person to tell their children how to access a career in bio-engineering or arts administration or how to study overseas, or get grants and scholarships to work in nuclear biology. Ask them what qualifies them to tell kids how to write a CV or how to interview. Or how to get work experience and conduct informational interviews. Or network. Or how to construct an application for an apprenticeship or job or university personal statement. Ask them to prove that they’re one of the illustrious 30% of schools that are getting at least some of it right. If they can’t answer those questions then read my book (available on Amazon) or visit my blog at www.Edducan.com to book for one to one or group sessions because your child’s future is too important to half arse.

careers week teacher quizzes student
Teachers should be quizzing students on what they want to do next, not what will make the schools look good or tick a box.

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