19 08 2010

Tony Blair put education at the forefront of his first election campaign. While he now shuffles around the world in search of his legacy it was education that was his first hope for booking his place in history.

It wasn’t just about raising standards in education. His strategy had a focus on entrepreneurship at it’s core. Those early, cringe-worthy Brit-Pop meetings at Number 10 were not only so Tony could meet his heroes. The aim was to encourage government to connect with youth culture and through it encourage a more enterprising generation. The big idea was to inject the spirit of enterprise into a tired, old schools sector.

So how did innovation and enterprise come to be forgotten and the focus to narrow even further on exam results and school league tables?

In my view the error came right at the start when the emphasis was put on pupils rather than teachers.

Programmes were developed to encourage pupil entrepreneurship. These, supported by the huge expansion in personal access to information driven by the growth of the internet in the 90’s and into the 21st century, allowed pupils to be put at the centre of their learning experience. This is perfectly right and proper. In theory.

But while there is so little room for enterprise within the teaching profession – being solely driven by academic achievement and league tables and commonly having no work/life experience beyond the education system – enterprise is squeezed out of the curriculum. How many times have we heard that teachers train children to pass exams rather than educating them?

The focus on academic achievement has meant that vocational training has been sidelined by successive governments. After much debate 14-19 years diplomas have been introduced in subjects such as construction and media but the initial intention of offering vocational study options in mainstream subjects such as English and modern languages has been shelved. This has meant that vocational courses are still seen as the poor relation to academic study.

Free schools, much vaunted by Michael Gove, may improve the situation by giving schools more control over the curriculum. However, looking at the experience with the current free schools, the city academies, they have been accused of doing away with ‘harder‘ academic subjects to focus on ‘softer‘ vocational options to improve the performance and position on school league tables.

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

While we have this differential thinking that equates academic to difficult and vocational to easy how will we ever be able to give equal value to practical study and to properly introduce courses such as enterprise and entrepreneurship into our schools.

In my own recent experience I contacted the Determined to Succeed Team here in Scotland. This is a great programme and driven by talented and committed individuals. The programme, however, is delivered via the local education bodies. I was able to offer my own skills, and those of hundreds of entrepreneurs who are involved in the3rdi magazine, free of charge, to support enterprise and work experience initiatives within schools.

To my huge disappointment, but not surprise as my own son has recently left the education system in Scotland, not one school in Perth and Kinross, not one – primary or secondary, thought that they could benefit from this opportunity. They were all too busy, focussed solely on year tests and final examination results. All too blinkered. My own son had not a single class on enterprise in his whole secondary education. Fortunately he has lots of role models outside the classroom but most kids aren’t that lucky and rely entirely on schools for the totality of their education, academic or otherwise.

We are now working with Glasgow schools and so maybe all is not doom and gloom.

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My son will probably never have a JOB

17 11 2009

My son is 17, wears trousers that hang low enough to expose virtually all of his boxer shorts, plays xbox and studies far less than I would like.   I try not to worry about him;  he is an articulate,  charming and intelligent boy-but I do worry for him. He doesn’t know what is coming.  With the pace of change in the world, none of us do.

This afternoon I had to wait at Glasgow Central Station. There was a boy standing, apparently waiting for a train to arrive. He wasn’t causing any problem. There was no hoodie. There wasn’t a gang. He made me think.  He looked to be about the same age as my son. He was clean, pale-faced and thin. He didn’t look ill or ill-treated but his clothes were torn and dirty. I started to wonder what he was doing here. What he did. Why he was standing in the station in the early part of the afternoon. I looked down to pick up my bag and when I turned round he was gone.

Then I looked across to the newspaper seller – a wasted man, thin, dirty and with the look of an addict. With him was a boy of about 17 years old.  He was laughing and cursing and hopping around from foot to foot.

And then there were the teenagers serving in Burger King….and I realised that I have no idea about JOBS.

I am middle-class. I could make a very good case for being working class based on the struggles of my grandparents in the early trade union movements of the industrial northwest of England in the early 20th century. The truth is that  their struggle and their efforts allowed their children, my parents, to become middle class…..and, therefore, so am I.

So, I read The Guardian and worry about my son but I have NO IDEA. I think in terms of careers and so, very probably, do you. I don’t think in terms of him getting A JOB, any job, 9-5 in order to pay the rent. They are working class choices.

While we are busy being inspired entrepreneurs or dynamic coaches or miracle mentors let’s not forget that there are still JOBS to be done and think how we can inspire some of these kids, to allow them to have progression and a career path and life choices beyond taking any job just to pay the rent.