Too many youngsters are still leaving school unaware of how to dress, or act, in the workplace according to Sir Michael Wilshaw.
In a speech, he argued that schools and colleges need to raise their game in teaching young people the skills they need for the world of work, but added that they need the support of parents, communities and employers to do so.
Many schools and colleges lack the facilities and staff to offer good practical programmes Sir Michael warned - in one case, a school caretaker had to run a construction course, while geography teachers have been asked to teach travel and tourism.
Speaking to business leaders at a CBI conference in Cambridge, Sir Michael backed a Bradford secondary school which provoked a national debate earlier this month when it launched a uniform crackdown and sent home 250 pupils in three days for dress violations.
The move, by Hanson Academy in Bradford, West Yorkshire, was “a lesson in how to be employable”, he suggested.
The school’s decision saw 152 pupils sent home in one day alone - leading to an outcry from some parents and encouragement from others.
Sir Michael told business leaders he understood their frustration that the education system is not improving fast enough, adding that many schools and colleges could do better, and many more youngsters should be work-ready.
But he added: “Before I move on to what they could and should do, or indeed what you as employers could and should do, let me give you a taste of the kind of attitudes that the nation and its schools struggle against.
“Earlier this month, the principal of a Bradford school in a deprived community sent home 150 pupils because they breached the school’s uniform rules. She was attacked by some for being petty. Let me tell you - I don’t believe that she was. What she was doing was reinforcing to her pupils and to their parents that all successful organisations require rules and that if children, especially children who lack structure and discipline at home, are to succeed in school and in work they have to respect them. It was, in essence, a lesson in how to be employable.
“I mention this because I want to emphasise that while schools and colleges need to raise their game, they cannot do it on their own. They need support. They need the backing and involvement of parents, their families and their communities. But crucially they need your backing, the backing of employers.”
He went on to say that he agreed with a previous CBI report which warned that too many school leavers enter the workplace without decent basic skills, but added that no one should be surprised at the situation, as practical courses have been sidelined, and schools lack the facilities and staff to offer good vocational education that prepares young people for the job market.
“I agree with your recent report; too many school leavers enter the workplace lacking basic literacy and numeracy. Career guidance is often out of date, weak and narrow. Too many youngsters leave school unaware that the world of work requires them to be punctual, suitably dressed and to communicate politely and empathetically with colleagues and customers.
“We have no right to be surprised at this state of affairs. The low status accorded to vocational programmes has quite simply diluted the brand. Schools lack high-quality facilities and staff who are up-to-date with the latest technical practices.
“I have heard examples of a school caretaker delivering a construction course because he had built a greenhouse, and of geography teachers running travel and tourism courses without understanding the industry well enough. In too many institutions, vocational education has become an afterthought, delivered by those who are not sufficiently valued. This has to change.”
Everyone must play their part to improve vocational education, Sir Michael insisted, as he called for apprenticeships to have parity of esteem with A-levels, and to be “aggressively” sold to schools, parents and young people.
High-quality vocational education should be “seen as a valid option for every student and not as the consolation prize for those who cannot do anything else,” he added.
Hanson Academy Principal Elizabeth Churton told The Yorkshire Post the school had decided “enough was enough”. She said it was important pupils learned to dress appropriately.
Some parents described the move as “draconian” but Ms Churton said the school had the support of the majority of its community. She added: “On Tuesday we sent home 152 students, which represents about eight per cent of our whole school community. Within the hour 72 returned dressed correctly. Today we have sent 63 students back and again the majority came back within the hour.”
Parents were told students “must have the school’s black blazer with the school badge of the breast pocket and must be worn at all times” unless staff give them permission to remove it.
A number of parents took to the school’s Facebook page to complain. Linzi Stansfield said: “Provide my son with the perfect shoes and then he can have the education he has a legal right to” adding that she could not afford “to be pandering to whims”.
Damien McDevitt, whose stepson attends the academy, said: “He was refused entry to the school yesterday just because he was wearing a winter coat over his blazer.”
The school’s website states:
Students ARE allowed:
• One pair of plain gold or silver- coloured ear studs or one single stud.
• A wrist-watch.
• Hair bands, scrunchies, bobbles and headscarves (khimar) (but they must be plain and simple).
• Only natural hair colours or appropriately dyed hair in natural colours are permitted. No other dyed colours or streaks are acceptable.
• Tramlines and shaved head designs are not acceptable (including close cut/ shaved panels of hair anywhere on the head that create any patterns including squares or other shapes such as ‘tails’ or V shapes).
• Hairstyles which are suitable for the school environment.
• Hijabs (however, they must be plain black).
• Long hair, but must be neatly tied back for practical lessons such as Design Technology, PE, dance and science, for health and safety reasons.
Students are NOT allowed:
• Facial, body piercings and stretchers on the school premises for health and safety reasons (flesh-coloured retainers are permitted).
• Outdoor clothing inside the school building at any time.
• Trainers or pumps (including brands such as Nike, Adidas, Converse, Vans, etc.)