A damning indictment on education – and on society
AS teachers these days, we are bombarded with directives from 'above'. "Our children need to learn this ... they need to learn that ... traditional methods are best ... modern methods are best etc etc".
Often it seems that no sooner have we worked out the most effective way of delivering a particular theory than someone in power decides it is redundant and we are faced with a 180 degree change in direction.
So I was pleased to read of an initiative being launched by our local MP – Charlotte Leslie – at the weekend in which she highlighted the fact that while our state school pupils achieve better degrees than their private counterparts, those same young people do not go on to the very best jobs.
The figures, in a Bristol University study, suggest that while nearly nine out of ten state school students who go on to university achieve at least an upper second class degree (85% for private school students), only 58% go on to a professional occupation (74% for privately-educated students).
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This is a damning indictment on not just our education system but also on society as a whole.
Charlotte is right when she says that in the clamour to get state school students through the door of universities in the first place, we are ignoring the non-academic skills which will actually give them the best chance of success.
These are – perhaps not very helpfully – known as 'soft skills'. In fact, I would call them crucial skills, just as academic qualifications are crucial. These skills include confidence, teamwork and organisational ability.
Charlotte went on to say that by increasing the number of state school students at university we, as society, tend to sit back and regard it as "job done". But, as the statistics for future employment show, this is far from the case.
Now the Government seems to be accepting that if we are to "close the gap", we need to realise that the development of a young person is multi-faceted and not just about numbers of qualifications or attaining a university place.
At Orchard School Bristol, we are very conscious of these so-called 'soft skills'. We have broadened considerably our non-academic curriculum and we are trying to expose our students to as many life experiences as possible.
This argument is not about private versus state. It is about recognising that while the majority of private school students take advantage of their connections and networks – and why shouldn't they – many other children either do not or do not have such networks to access in the first place.
We also need to be sure that when children leave secondary school, they are socially confident, articulate and able to hold their own in any company.
Surely this is one thing on which we can all be agreed – and fairly sure that there will not be a change of policy every five years!
Dr Helen Holman is head teacher of Orchard School Bristol