Last week I attended meetings at two of my local schools. One was a briefing session for sixth formers considering their future options, the other a business breakfast designed to showcase credentials as a business and enterprise college. Both schools created really positive impressions, leaving me to ponder as to why the UK education system and their products get such a bad press.
It is a frequent moan of employers large and small that the quality of new entrants into the workplace is not high. The CBI reports that companies are being forced to stage remedial lessons to deal with new recruits lacking basic employment skills. No lesser businessman than Sir Terry Leahy, who is no slouch when it comes to management, has bemoaned the fact that businesses have to pick up the pieces of “woefully low education standards.
And yet are we being fair to the young people who are being tarred with this very broad brush. As anybody involved in education will tell you, today’s children do not have an easy ride. They are set regular targets based on identified potential. They put up with a level and frequency of testing and assessment that puts workplace performance evaluations to shame. And they do work extremely hard to deliver the grades that are all too often dismissed.
OK if it is not down to the students then it must be down to the schools. Well, not on the evidence of last week’s meetings where stories of engagement with local businesses, and public/private initiatives in the face of some daunting fund raising challenges showed a real determination and resourcefulness to deliver improvements and results.
All right so there is clearly a general attitude problem. Really? Apparent lack of enthusiasm for basic tasks, cynicism, unreal expectations – are these traits only seen in school or college leavers? Indeed are over embellished CVs that don’t cut the mustard any different to so called inflated exam grades? Maybe it is just that the older generation have had years of practise in disguising this….
It is not enough for businesses to moan about the system (and voting clearly won’t change things either). What is needed is direct engagement between businesses and schools, a two way process that goes beyond telling schools what business thinks it wants. I think most schools would welcome this.
This is not to say that all in education is right. There are probably too many universities and too many poor quality and failing schools. There are definitely too many bureaucrats and directives. But on the ground, thousands of schools, students and teachers are working extremely hard to deliver results and rounded human beings. This needs to be remembered too.