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Education must prepare students for employment

Chris Jones , 20 Feb 2013

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Wherever possible, education should prepare young people for work and make the transition to employment easier. That’s why employers should be concerned about education secretary Michael Gove’s planned shake-up to the current academic education system.

Under his proposals, AS-Levels will no longer count towards the final grade and become stand-alone qualifications. A-Levels will now be assessed at the end of the two year period and universities will be given greater influence on the content and structure of the curriculum.

I am not alone in my concerns that these changes and their focus on academia are a step backwards for education. It begs the question: what about preparing young people for employment? We know frustration is growing amongst employers that schools and universities are not providing people with the skills they need for the real world. Businesses want employees who have the relevant work experience and skills to add value from day one.

I'm sure many readers will have first-hand experience in helping young people adjust to work and the demands of an employer. That's why education - whether academic or vocational - should prepare young people for employment. To achieve this, not only does the education system need to operate like the workplace, but employers need direct involvement. But it's not just for those of us in education to speak out against these proposals; businesses also have a responsibility to recognise how this could negatively impact on them.

Let's start with the changes to A-Levels. Gove believes A-Level students spend too much time preparing for exams in a 'learn and forget' approach to studying so wants to see just one assessment at the end of the two-year period. He claims this will help students learn their chosen subject more deeply and in a linear fashion, stepping away from the current modular approach.

But consider how that translates to the workplace. It would be insane to wait for two years to assess a project or to update someone on their personal development. Why should this be different in schools? It seems to me that Gove's focus is out of touch and completely at odds with the working world.

Gove also plans to engage the research-intensive Russell Group universities in shaping the curriculum. However if the end goal of education is employment, then surely both employers and universities are critical stakeholders? And won't this pigeon-hole those who don't see university as the next step after A-Levels? It would be more appropriate for both universities and employers to be involved in this process so that technical and employability criteria are more prominent.

Although we welcomed the Government's decision to shelve plans for introducing EBCs, I have similar concerns around the proposed reforms to GCSEs. While it is encouraging to see the Government announce a broader criteria for measuring student performance, rather than just the narrow Ebacc measure of five academic subjects, we hope they take the opportunity to ensure the views and needs of employers are included in any changes to the GCSE curriculum. Whichever educational route a young person takes, it must include employability skills each step of the way. Vocational, work-based qualifications, contextualised learning and general employability skills must be taken into account if we are to provide the skills businesses need to grow now and in the future.

There have been some more positive developments; last year, the Government announced its plans to develop a Technical Baccalaureate. Alongside this, City & Guilds is refreshing its own TechBac -a high quality programme to give young people the chance to progress in a way that best suits their learning styles and ambitions. By combining general and/or competence-based qualifications with hands-on experience, it will place them in good stead for their future careers. We will be taking this forward, working closely with a range of partners to ensure that we meet the needs of both young people and employers.

In her first couple of weeks with us, one of our apprentices at City & Guilds said: 'We don't go to school just to go to school. We go to school to get a job.' Gove needs to look deeper than assessment methods and strengthening academia. He needs to look at how things are being taught, what's being taught, and whether they truly prepare people for employment, whatever educational route they may take.

Chris Jones, CEO and director general, City & Guilds

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Why the educational system is failing young people?

P Mannion 02 Mar 2013

After careers in the Army and IT management I have a fair idea of the core attributes required to succeed in a job. Principal amongst them is surely the ability to work hard and get the job done on time, on spec. I now lecture in computing at an FE college. Having taught a number of IT qualifications over the last decade I believe strongly that exam board assessment rules and Government FE funding regulations are major factors in not fully preparing students for 'the real World'. For example, students doing a Level 3 course I teach cannot be penalised for failing to submit work to a deadline, nor can they be penalised for submitting an incomplete piece of work. They must be given the opportunity to resubmit until they pass. On some occasions I have had to mark assessments 9 or more months overdue. There is also no defined limit to the number of resubmissions a student can make. I sometimes have to mark work 7, 8 or more times until the student simply gains a pass. As I am required to provide feedback on what they got wrong, I effectively end up writing so much feedback that I feel I have passed the assessment for them! Is this a good way to demonstrate, encourage and reenforce the importance of getting work done on time, on spec and which is fit for purpose? In effect we have a course that has no mechanisms to reward those who work hard and penalise those who don't. Another major factor, in my opinion, is a consequence of FE funding. I often end up with young people on my courses who very obviously do not have a driving interest in the subject and clearly do not want a career in IT. They apply because they don't want to get a job, their parents want them to stay in education to keep getting benefits or they have no idea what to learn next, but they like "playing on their computer" so an IT course seems ok. All reasons I have heard candidates and their parents quite openly give during interviews. My college makes every effort possible to ensure we get the right student on the right course, but the fact is that if the student has the required entry qualifications and they say they want to do the course, we are obliged to take them. It is all about 'bums on seats'. Enrolment numbers are a funding metric. The consequence of all this is that we often have students who have no passion in the subject, do not value or develop work ethic, and yet still gain a qualification that provides no real indication of their ability to work hard and get something done to the required standard on time. No matter what, we have to get them through the course as future funding depends on success rates. This is so very unfair to the students who have worked hard and shown enthusiasm for the subject because there is nothing in the qualification assessment regulations that can reward them for this. It is incredibly frustrating to know that we are letting young people down, but as long as we have a system that measures success in education simply by the number of those who get a qualification, no matter how irrelevant it is to them and how little it really prepares them for the workplace, we are, as the expression goes, fighting a 'forlorn hope'.

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