I’ve just been to my father-in-law’s 60th birthday party. It was a splendid affair. I’m not however going to garnish you with details of how tasty the battered Jalapeños were, or how I’ve broken the “no-booze-January” rule. This blog post is a bit deep I’m afraid. Especially for a Sunday night.
So Chris, where do you work again?
That was the lead-in question to my conversation with a close family-friend of the Taylors. It led to a pretty enlightening half-hour.
I’d met the guy a long time ago at his box at the Stadium of Light (I was there under duress). I was starting out in my relationship with the lady I’ve since married and was more than likely on my best behaviour as a guest for the day; it’s hardly surprising that he’s since forgotten who I am or what I do.
I’m a teacher; at Cramlington
Outside of a few Teaching and Learning types, telling people you work at Crammy High (sic) doesn’t prick their ears up, it doesn’t make them respect you more; it means you work in a town of dual carriageways and roundabouts that boasts a shopping centre as its jewel in the crown. The gentleman I was speaking to, was simply interested in the fact that I’m a teacher.
So what do you teach?
Usually in answer to this question I fire back; “morons, idiots and prison-fodder”. Oh aye, It’s a classic.
This guy doesn’t like to be pillocked however, so I decided to be sensible. He then went down a route I wasn’t expecting. “How do you think you are preparing your students for the real world?” It took me a bit by surprise as we were having a couple of beers & I was really expecting the “oh kids these days are horrible, I don’t know how you do it” bit.
So I says “well, I’m not really sure what you mean…” He went on to grill me about what schools are doing to ensure kids we send out into society are capable of doing “proper jobs”.
At first I was a bit on the defensive; as you are when you think someone’s having a pop at how shite teachers are these days. You know, exams are easier, we’re always on strike and the rest of it. But this guy’s angle was a bit different. He is a self-made multi-millionaire. He created his construction, plumbing, electrical businesses from nothing. He left school with no discernible qualifications. He’s like the Mackem version of a (significantly poorer) Richard Branson or Alan Sugar. His company religiously takes on 2/3 apprentices each year. He wanted to know what people like me were doing to ensure the kids he takes on are ready for the challenges ahead. And he wasn’t interested in the 5R’s before you throw that at me! Told you it was deep for a beer-chat.
What are we really doing?
I’ll probably be disciplined for this but we’ll deal with that later. We’re in the process of peddling our 6th form courses to current Yr11′s. I’m sure your school is doing the same. As a Yr11 tutor, it would be great if all our kids stayed on. I bloody love my group. From a purely selfish point of view, I’d like them all to remain at the school until they’re 18. Fortunately however, as teachers we have the duty to ensure all of our kids go down the right path after they leave compulsory education. We all tell our kids that there’s “something for everyone” at our 6th forms. It’s simply not true. There are so many kids who have “had enough” of school and the way we do things. We fall into the trap of being adults pretending to imagine how our kids see things. I promised my tutees on day-one that I’d never lie to them and I’ve kept that promise. For some, I know our 6th form and A Levels is the best option. Likewise, plenty of my tutor group will be heading to Newcastle, Gateshead or Ashington for further study. Some will be looking for apprenticeships or jobs. We rattle on about independent learning, encouraging kids to learn how, where and with-whom they choose. Then we tell them our 6th forms are for them. Unfortunately, schools are businesses nowadays and “bums-on-seats” overrules our moral duty on occasion.
Get back to the point Horner
Until a couple of hours ago, I would agree completely that as many kids as possible need to stay in 16+ education. My new pal however made me question this. He gave me some genuine, frank and honest appraisal of what businesses really think, want and need from school leavers. He was critical of the messages kids get about the need for further qualifications. As an employer in the construction world & a trainer of apprentices, the gentleman wanted kids at 16; keen to graft, keen to learn the trade. Not brimming with English and Maths GCSE A*-C’s, A Levels, BTECs, Diplomas and equivalent qualifications. His major criticism was that too many kids are told to stay on or pushed towards a college course that business owners like him simply don’t value. He’d rather have a mad-keen, blank canvas as early as possible to train, employ; then set to work training the next wave that comes through.
I was sat there listening and doing my best to answer his myriad questions, whilst all the time thinking about what my stance is in all this. Having qualifications that result from a quality education can only be a good thing. But in a world where kids are being told that they need A*-C in English & Maths to flip burgers at McDonalds; well, surely there’s something wrong.
Schools are often breeding grounds for buzzwords and phrases that some teachers love to use. “Authenticity” is one I’ve recently come to despise. Hey, High Tech High students hang their Art projects in San Diego Airport – it’s authentic assessment… We run a construction course at our place. For a few kids. That’s authentic surely? Not all kids who want to be tradesmen get on the course however, but hey it’s authentic.
But I’ve just spoken with an authentic businessman. An authentic employer of kids and apprentices, who is actively challenging the doctrine we hammer into our 16 year olds on a daily basis. Is he simply wanting to take kids on early to save himself some cash? Get apprentices before they’re old/educated enough to question & challenge? I don’t know. But I genuinely don’t think it’s some kind of scam.
So what now?
I left the party with a banging head. Not the ale (I was at least frugal with the consumption), it was what my friend said last; “so what can you do?” I didn’t have an answer. He was really after an answer. I felt a bit pathetic saying “well, me personally, there’s not much I can do”. He wants schools to send him kids so that they can train, work and develop. He wanted a link. He’s desperate for someone in a school to make a change to the way we do things. Unfortunately I don’t have the bottle or the political clout to affect this kind of change at the drop of a hat. But I can at least sow a seed of doubt.
Before I get hammered by the majority of intelligent, educated and sensible people who might chance to read this, I absolutely value post 16 qualifications. I explain to kids on a daily basis that the world they are entering in a few months isn’t the same world my new friend entered around 40 years ago. Being as qualified as possible will be invaluable in the times of uncertainty ahead.
But. Think about the kids my friend might be employing in his trade. What are we doing for these kids? Are we giving them the best advice, guidance or chances of finding meaningful employment or training? The kids who hate school. The ones we don’t really want in 6th form. What are we doing for them? Do we have the necessary links with REAL trades and businesses to supply the needs or employer & employees alike? If not; can we?