Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Layer 253 . . . Education and Employment

Mark my words . . .

Channel 4 news last night:

"British and Nato forces pushing forward in their current operation (Moshtarak) have met little or no resistance from the Taliban."

Oxzen - Layer 248:
Here we have the Americans telling the Taliban they're massing forces and about to 'surge' into Taliban-held areas, having already said that American troops will be withdrawn from the country within a year ot two. So what are you going to do if you're a Taliban? Take to the mountains and hang out there for a while until the Americans and their allies have cleared off . . .

Education and Employment

Brother B got in touch yesterday and let me know about this piece in the Sunday Times:

February 21, 2010
Schools are churning out the unemployable

The latest unemployment figures are a shocker. Eight million adults are “economically inactive”. That means one in five people of working age does not have a job. A new and expanding group, poignantly described as “discouraged” workers, have even given up looking.

They are right to be discouraged but wrong that there is no work. A report out on Friday points out that a fifth of firms and a quarter of employers in the state sector are still hiring — despite the recession. Except they are taking on migrant workers — not our home-grown “discouraged” variety.

The managing director of a medium-sized IT company explained why. High-flyers — Oxford and Cambridge graduates — are still as good as any in the world. His problems come when he tries to recruit middle management. Last year he interviewed 52 graduates — all educated in state schools. On paper they looked “brilliant students”. Each had three As at A-level and a 2:1 degree. He shook his head. “There’s a big difference between people passing exams and being ready for work.”

This was obvious even before the interview began. Of the 52 applicants, half arrived late. Only three of the 52 walked up to the managing director, looked him in the eye, shook his hand and said, “Good morning.” The rest “just ambled in”.

The three who had greeted him proved the strongest candidates and he hired them. Within a year they were out because of their “lackadaisical” attitude. They did not turn up on time; for the first six months a manager had to check all their emails for spelling and grammar; they did not know how to learn. It was the first time they had ever been asked to learn on their own. Their ability to “engage in business” was “incredibly” disappointing and “at 5.30 on the dot they left the office”.

A CBI survey revealed that literacy and numeracy were not the only problems. More than 50% of employers complained that young people were inarticulate, unable to communicate concisely, interpret written instructions or perform simple mental calculations.

The Department for Work and Pensions says UK citizens are on the dole because of “issues around basic employability skills, incentives and motivation”. It is a pity it has not passed that insight on to the Department for Children, Schools and Families.

The DWP has made it clear: work is where the inflated claims for our state education finally hit the buffers. At every stage we have a system in which the expediency of politicians and the ideology of the educational establishment take precedence over the interests of pupils.

We have children who can barely read and write scoring high marks in their Sats because it makes the school, and therefore politicians, look good. We have exam boards competing to offer the lowest pass mark because it allows heads to fulfil their GCSE targets. We have pupils pushed into easy subjects at A-level — which excludes them from applying to a top university — because it benefits the school.
None of this comes as any great surprise. In 1998 Daniel Goleman wrote a book called 'Working With Emotional Intelligence'. Chapter 1 begins with these words:

The rules of work are changing. We're being judged by a new yardstick:not just by how smart we are, or by our training and expertise, but also by how well we handle ourselves and each other. This yardstick is increasingly being applied in choosing who will be hired and who will not, who will be let go and who retained, who passed over and who promoted.

[This has] little to do with what we were told was important in school; academic abilities are largely irrelevant by this standard. The new measure takes for granted having enough intellectual ability and technical know-how to do our jobs; it focuses instead on personal qualities, such as initiative and empathy, adaptability and persuasiveness.

In a time with no guarantees of job security, when the very concept of a "job" is rapidly being replaced by "portable skills", these are prime qualities that make and keep us employable. Talked about loosely for decades under a variety of names, from "character" and "personality" to "soft skills" and "competence", there is at last a more precise understanding of these human talents, and a new name for them: emotional intelligence.

IQ takes second position to emotional intelligence in determining outstanding job performance.


I'd again urge everyone interested in these issues to follow these links:


Politicians who have anger management issues might want to have a careful read of Goleman's book - for example, on Page 9:

"Where earlier [a manager or a Prime Minister] might easily hide a hot temper or shyness, now competencies such as managing one's emotions, handling encounters well, teamwork, and leadership, show - and count - more than ever."

Strong Foundations?

Without wishing to sound patronising, since I think Estelle Morris is a decent human being, I think it's good, in a way, that the Guardian continues to let her write a weekly wishy washy New Labourist column in its Education section. Estelle was never particularly strong on passion, it seems to me, and never disloyal to New Labour.

This week's column is worth taking a look at.

Foundation degrees offer a strong vision for the future

Those offering traditional degrees could learn a lot from the diverse entry routes and patterns of provision offered by foundation courses

It's not often that announcements about skills and vocational education are covered by the media, let alone written up as a real success story. There is no doubt it is a historically weak part of our education system: we seem to have an inability to stick to any vocational qualifications framework for any length of time, and vocational education has faced wave after wave of repackaging.

The recent announcement, therefore, that the number of students study­ing for foundation degrees had risen by 40% in the last two years and that the 100,000 target would be reached a year early makes good reading.

These degrees have called for new ways of working between higher and further education, and between academia, business and industry. Employers and students are in the driving seat of course design, and strong links between universities and colleges mean it is easy for students to complete an honours degree.

The temptation is always to do less when money is scarce, but Lord Mandelson makes a good case for doing things differently. His call for more two-year courses, greater flexibility and a sector that has the ability to respond better to the demands of its students is worth heeding – and subject courses may learn something from their vocational neighbours.

These courses are "packaged" in a different way from other degree-level courses. There's more contact time, fewer holidays and the chance for paid employment. Compare that to what seems like a continuing reduction in contact time in straight subject courses and not much change to the traditional three 10-week terms.

If the choice is between cutting student numbers or reshaping university education, I'd opt for the latter.

There have been changes. More places are part time, modular courses are on offer, and partnerships with further education are delivering degree-level teaching in communities. But the national debate about student funding and places still too often focuses on the pattern of study dominant when only 10% of the population went to university.

It isn't just the financial crisis that means we need to rethink, but the consequences for people's lives and the changing demands of employers. It calls for diverse entry routes and patterns of provision across higher education.

Foundation degrees will never be at the top of the academic tree, but their record of innovation might be a lesson from which others could learn.

In response to a CIF comment by cmsdengl, Oxzen said this -

I'd say that increasing numbers of people being drawn into higher education because the courses on offer have appeal and relevance to the needs of students is a very good reason for expounding their success. Especially when no-one's trying to claim that they're the same as, or equivalent to, honours degrees.

Who cares whether those taking foundation degrees go on to do three year degrees? If honours degrees have no appeal and no relevance to potential students then they won't do them. Especially if they're not affordable.

And who's to say that employers won't, both now and in the future, prefer to employ those with vocational as opposed to purely academic qualifications? There's plenty of evidence to show that the smarter companies are seeing the error of employing those who are academically able but also, in some cases, arrogant and complacent, especially when many of those people lack any practical or vocational skills, any creativity, any social or emotional intelligence, any interest in lifelong and on-the-job learning, and little or no ability to add value to the workplace.

The possession of an honours degree does not automatically make people more suited to a commercial work environment, just as it doesn't automatically make them a better human being.


Anyone with any interest in education and politics, and the politics of education, must have a good look at this piece in the Guardian -

Labour's teaching strategies were a burden, say inspectors

Ofsted report says national strategies programme failed to eradicate poor teaching

Oxzen's comment on CIF is -

    "A flagship New Labour education reform has failed to eradicate poor teaching and become a burden for schools, inspectors said today."
    "The programme was obsessed with monitoring, but rarely evaluated how well initiatives worked."
    "The schools and local authorities visited were often overwhelmed by the volume of centrally driven initiatives, materials and communications."

Oh dear. I think we already knew this. How come Ofsted have only just discovered it? That's what I call a failing inspection regime.

The first thing to say is that with such an unsatisfactory Ofsted report as this one the government and the DCFS should now consider themselves, as failing authorities, to be in Special Measures, and the schools system should be handed over to more competent authorities - trained and experienced educationalists for example - for direction and management. Fortunately this seems to be happening.

Naturally enough, the schools minister, Vernon Coaker, says the government makes no apologies. They never do, and they never will. Which is one of the reasons they've become so despised.

Coaker claims that the government and its strategies are responsible for "the highest ever school standards" - again, without the slightest shred of evidence. Leaving aside the fact that high tests scores say nothing meaningful about whether anyone has had a good all-round education and is well equipped for future employment and for life in general, let's be clear that the teaching profession, left to its own devices, and left well alone by a bullying ("robust") regime of target-setting and "accountability", would have continued to strive for greater excellence these past many years and in all probability would have achieved both better results and a more balanced, more rounded, more innovative, more creative, more relevant and more enjoyable education for all pupils. I can't prove that this would be the case, but then again Coaker can't prove his claim that his government and its strategies deserve all the credit for improvements and the teaching profession deserves none.


The well-known educationalist Zoe Margolis has an interesting column in today's paper.


It's worth taking a look at the current Lib Dem ideas on education, as set out by their education spokesman, David Laws.

What's the policy we might vote for?

Readers interview David Laws, the Lib Dems' education spokesman


And finally . . . .

This is wonderful -

Justice begins at home

More and more schools are aiming to put human rights at the heart of their curriculum

For several years, Villiers high, a comprehensive secondary in Southall, west London, has been taking a global view of its mission to prepare its pupils for the modern world. And increasingly, its international education has focused on human rights issues. Attempts are also being made to embed human rights values into the fabric of the school's daily life.

Robin Street, the assistant head, is responsible for the programme. Street and his colleagues are aiming to educate a new generation that will have a clearer understanding of threats to human rights across the world.

The school is now working closely with Amnesty International, which has linked up with 15 schools in 14 countries to create the Human Rights Friendly Schools project.

A similar scheme known as the Rights Respecting Schools Award has been run for the last six years by Unicef UK, a charity that promotes the work of the United Nations Children's Fund. Now running in more than 1,000 primary and secondary schools across the UK, this project aims to help children learn more about the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child

At Villiers, education about basic liberties is incorporated into geography and media studies lessons, as well as citizenship, history and RE. Over the last 15 years, says Street, increasing numbers of refugees have settled in the school's catchment area, so a study of local geography must involve learning about the reasons why people seek asylum in the UK.

Last October, the school hosted a two-day international students' conference, inviting pupils from schools in Denmark, the Czech Republic, Israel, Mongolia, Germany and Northern Ireland. With the help of artists, musicians and media advisers, the pupils worked together in a series of workshops to explore ways in which greater awareness of basic rights can be integrated into every area of a school's life. Meanwhile, staff from Villiers and the visiting schools received training from Amnesty and Unicef about the development of human rights education.

Street says: "The conference allowed our students, other students from across the UK and from across the globe to share thoughts and ideas about the importance of knowing about their own rights and, by definition, their own responsibilities."


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