Preparing students for the world of work

I read an interesting article today on the BBC, reporting that careers advice is on ‘life support’ in many schools in England, with teenagers having little knowledge of the workplace.

There have been many concerns about the quality of the careers advice that is currently offered to students during their education, resulting in worries that young people lack an understanding of the jobs market. Whilst there is advice available online and through special phone lines that have been set up, it’s the face-to-face guidance – arguably the most important bit – that seems to be lacking.

When I think back to my school days (which admittedly was a while ago now), I would probably say I wasn’t offered the level of careers guidance that I would have liked. It seemed like, rather than actually helping us find out what sort of job we’d be suited to, they asked us what we wanted to be and then told us what we needed to, academically, in order to get there.

Bearing in mind today’s job market is far more complex than it used to be, it is possibly more important than ever for students to be provided with structured careers guidance during their school days, when they still have time to gather the necessary skills and experience for the career they’re keen to follow. It goes without saying that young people need the skills that employers demand – we can’t really afford to waste talent when the long-term economic outlook is so challenging.

While I think careers advice is essential for students and is definitely something that should be considered as more of a priority in schools, I don’t think it’s enough on its own.

Work experience is something that I would consider as invaluable. Not only does it provide young people with some idea of what they do and don’t enjoy, which is useful when it comes to choosing a career path, but it also gives them (and their CV) an edge that other candidates going for the same job may not have – experience, skills and transferability for example.

When I did my compulsory work experience in Year 10, I spent two weeks at a primary school. Although it wasn’t the career path that I chose to take in the end, it provided me with a basic understanding of the world of work, and gave me the chance to basically live a week in the life of a teacher, with a taste of some of the responsibilities that they are faced with on a day-to-day basis.

I also feel that ‘real world’ skills are hugely important, and that students need to be armed with them when they leave school. These are the skills that allow young people to adapt and learn – communication, problem solving and team working, for example. These, among others, are things that will prepare students for the world of work and are transferable skills that can be put into practice when they arrive for their first day in a new job.

To summarise, I think careers advice at school is extremely important. I don’t think it’s enough on its own though, it’s a part of the bigger picture. In my opinion, the combination of advice, experience and skills is what students need, and with the right balance of these they’ll be raring to go!



Learning from those with learning disabilities

I know that Learning Disability Week, a week of national campaigning and awareness raising run by Mencap, isn’t until August, but I was so moved by a case study I have just completed for College Park School, Westminster, that I wanted to flag it up a little early.

The NHS defines Learning Disability as ‘the way a person learns new things in any area of life, not just at school’. It goes on to detail how learning disability affects the way people understand information and how they communicate, so they may have difficulty coping independently or learning new skills. Mencap’s Lesley Campbell says that if a child has a learning disability, in practical terms this means that it is ‘harder for [them] to learn, understand and communicate than it is for other children’.

Understanding that its pupils are not the same as their mainstream peers, College Park School does not aim for the same outcomes; the school’s philosophy is “Preparation for Life”. It prepares pupils for life beyond school, providing them with opportunities for learning skills and knowledge; ultimately preparing them for their place in the adult world. I found this hugely inspiring as I believe that all schools, SEN and mainstream alike, should prepare students for the big, bad world… for life!

Ricardo Clarke, a teacher at the school, explained how important it is for his students to be able to identify when someone is happy, sad or angry, or to learn how to cross the road safely, travel on a bus or train, use the shops and find local facilities, as these skills often don’t come naturally to children with learning disabilities. However, I think that all schools should stress the importance of these skills to their students. I know that as a young child without a learning disability, I would have still benefitted hugely from such life lessons.

On your bike!

In a recent report, the Department of Health stated: “Physical education is not limited to training in physical skills, and has more than just a recreational dimension. With involvement in many physical activities comes knowledge and insight centred on principles and concepts such as ‘rules of the game’, fair play and respect, bodily awareness, and the social awareness linked to personal interaction and team effort in many sports.” Prime Minister David Cameron clearly supports this view, having announced a £150 million a year boost to primary school sport in March this year.

There are several studies that examine the benefits of regular intense activity. Research has shown a positive correlation between good behaviour and exercise and being active from childhood leads to better performance in mental tests at the age of 50. What’s more, did you know that children can half their risk of becoming obese by taking part in 15 minutes of activity every day?!

Next week marks ‘Bike to School Week’, encouraging children (and hopefully many teachers too) to travel to school on their bikes. Cycling is the third most popular recreational activity in the UK and according to the NHS online, an estimated 3.1 million people in the UK ride a bicycle each month.
Cycling has many benefits; for a start, it can easily be incorporated into a daily routine because it’s also a mode of transportation. This is in turn helps the environment and decreases the amount of traffic on busy school roads.

For those of you who are perhaps a little exercise shy, cycling is great because it’s a low-impact type of activity, (unless you have to cycle up a steep hill for 20 minutes to get to the school gates!) so it’s easier on your joints, but still gets you into shape.

So with summer finally setting in, what better way to make the most of the sunshine than cycling to school? Who knows, it might inspire the next Bradley Wiggins!

Time for a break for teachers

The sun is finally out, the windows are wide open in the Mango office – is it too keen to hope that summer might finally be on its way?

The general consensus if you were to ask for people’s memories of their summers as children is bound to be about the six week summer holiday which seemed to stretch forever. There has been great debate however in recent years as to whether school holidays, especially the summer break, are too long.

Nottingham city council has already announced plans to cut the summer holidays to four weeks instead of six, and to split the school year into five terms. They say that the school holidays are too long and that children from poorer families can fall behind because of the lengthy summer break.

A few weeks ago my colleague Joanna shared her thoughts on why the school summer holiday should stay, with great memories of her never-ending summer breaks, and argued that the increased pressure on children to perform sees them need time out.

I wanted to add my thoughts on why it is more than just the children who need the school break – what about the teachers?

My parents are both teachers in an over-subscribed secondary school. For many people, the thought of being a teacher must be great – finishing for the day at 3.30pm, and long holidays on top of that! However, having grown up with my parents and their friendship group of colleagues, the reality is very different. My Dad is almost never home before 7pm, and last half term he spent every day at school getting lesson plans/marking/equipment ready. Experience tells me that he is not alone in working a huge amount of unpaid ‘overtime’; often his department will work late for weeks on end, staying behind as deadlines close in and students begin to panic about finishing their work in time.

Former teacher and educational researcher Dr Kevin Eames says the pressures of teaching are very intense and draining: “Teachers I’ve worked with who have come in from law, finance and journalism have commented that it is the most demanding, tiring and busy thing they have ever done.”

School holidays, and in particular the summer break (of which on average three weeks I would imagine will be spent either in school or doing work for school) are therefore the only opportunity for a well-earned rest!

Mary Bousted of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers agrees: “Despite official figures showing that the average teacher works more than 11 hours of unpaid overtime each week, despite most teachers having to prepare and mark work in the evening and at weekends and despite many teachers voluntarily coming in during school holidays because they care about the future of their pupils, the Secretary of State says that schools should be open longer.”

The move to change school holidays could be a big blow to a profession that really does deserve a break!

What are your thoughts?