Why pupils should be taught more about job skills instead of just passing exams: Ruth Gilbert

Are schools too focused on exam results? Picture: PA
Are schools too focused on exam results? Picture: PA
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As a trained teacher, former college principal and now education director for a property development group – I have spent all my life either in or working in the education system. I’ve observed a vast number of legislative changes, initiatives and policies, but they’re rarely focused on preparing young people for careers.

Schools and colleges are ultimately judged on one key performance indicator: examination results. Get students through their exams and that’s it, job done. Of course, passing exams is important in order to demonstrate core skills. However, more emphasis is needed on the ‘‘point’’ of the learning – what’s the end result?

Many young people themselves don’t know the answer to this. They’ll say that their main aim is to pass their exams when really, they should be thinking further ahead and planning their career pathway. Recent research highlights that 60 per cent of young people are choosing GCSE subjects that they are likely to do well in, but not that they enjoy. Tight budgets also mean that schools are being forced to put their resources into core National Curriculum subjects.

Yet who ensures young people learn about budgeting for living costs and explore careers with great reward, which don’t fall under the National Curriculum subjects, such as cross-industry digital technology or the 200-plus health-based careers?

Education is clearly about far more than exam results. It is about helping young people to develop confidence and skills for work and living, plan their career pathways and ultimately prepare them for life after education.

The National Curriculum should reflect this. It should be inextricably linked with the changing world we are living in, connecting the skills being taught with employability and regional career opportunities.

Careers education is critical. Although the Government does fund some specialist career guidance for schools and colleges, young people are not being shown the connection between what they are learning in the classroom and new/growing career pathways for their future. Traditional school subjects often lose their relevance to young people, leading to disinterest, disengagement and underachievement.

The Government has set National Careers Education Benchmarks for all schools, as part of its 2017 Careers Strategy. These benchmarks are not being met – a year ago Humber schools and colleges reported achieving between 2.5 and 3.1 out of the 8 Benchmarks. In September 2019 Humber schools achieved an average of 3.4 out of 8 National Careers Benchmarks.

With education and employment operating in silos, it’s hardly surprising that youth unemployment is on the rise. 18-24 year olds in our region account for a third of all unemployment, with numbers having doubled in the last 10 years. Apprenticeship take up is low, and the area is facing skills shortages in areas such as health, digital and manufacturing.

So what can we do locally to improve young people’s prospects? There is no quick and easy answer. However, action is being taken locally to try and address the issue. Manor Property Group is working to create a network of regional Qdos Careers Hubs (with the first one to be created in Melton) and a Qdos Technical College.  

How many 13-year olds will know about careers in cloud technology, cyber security or data analytics, and the routes to get there? Yet, this is the age at which we need to inspire young people and support them to shape their future career plans. Qdos Careers Hub, inspired by international careers education practice, will provide impartial careers advice to young people from schools and colleges across the region. Students will meet real employers and university representatives outside of the classroom – enabling them to make their own, informed decisions about future careers, with no institutional bias being pushed onto them.

The project will complement existing and established services, taking the pressure off schools to deliver careers education. Education Minister Gavin Williamson spoke recently in Yorkshire and rightly pointed out that the only way to close the productivity gap is by investing in people and making sure people have the right education and skills to succeed. For this to happen we need an updated national curriculum with careers education at its heart. The focus has to shift from simply getting young people through exams to getting them into fulfilling careers, embracing innovative internationally proven practices.

Ruth Gilbert is Group Education Director for the Manor Property Group.