Teachers and Bad Career Advice

I want to let off a little steam. Actually a whole pot of steam.

For those who know me, I am big fan of teachers. I will defend them and the courageous work they do, but I will also call them out when I think they are doing something wrong too.

It pisses me off when students are guided or misguided by small minded teachers who don’t see the bigger picture. I am sick to the back teeth of teachers, or those responsible for career guidance and future learning in school, getting it so wrong for many students. Having had some crappy advice from teachers about my own future I sought over twenty years ago to dedicate a good proportion of my energy in trying to ensure students don’t end up going down the same route. And yet, still to this day, so many are still getting crap advice with those giving it not actually thinking of the impact.

Sixth Forms
I can’t believe that I am actually agreeing with Sir Michael Wilshaw on this, but earlier this week he wrote an article shaming those schools who restricted choice for students. He stated “Too often this is what inspectors see all the time – they go into secondary schools and because head teachers are so concerned about filling their sixth forms to ensuring that their budgets are strong, will give the wrong advice to youngsters and be selfish in their careers advice.” Students don’t get the opportunity to pursue vocational courses or the quality of apprenticeships because some leaders want bums on seats. I know this to be true firsthand, as I have been asked to adapt many of my speeches for year elevens to “study to stay for sixth form”.

I get it. Many schools are struggling financially now and so every penny counts, but not at the expense of good guidance for a student that really needs it.

Which brings me on to my second point about the influence of choices for university education.

I’ve seen students discouraged from the arts, because someone thinks they should only do science. I’ve seen others who could go academic routes put off because someone said they couldn’t. Many miss out because parents don’t know any better. That stuff sucks

Having edited scores of personal statements for students over the years, and having delivered workshops on it, I have lost count of the amount of students, who are more than able but have been discouraged from going to university. This year I was blind copied in on an email from a student who took a sixth form to task for acting more like a business trying to massage figures than actually working to help him achieve his potential. His A2 grades were challenging, but so are so many. How many stories have we seen of students who flopped their first year. Yours truly included. I know of many teachers who also screwed up at that level and ended up bucking their ideas up and going on to do well. Because someone was empathetic and supported their learning.

Having one of my daughters go to a private school I noticed how much emphasis was placed on extra curricular activities. Almost everyone was in a sports team, music, leadership programmes or signed up with cadets or did the Duke of Edinburgh or equivalent courses. Knowing this and how it works to explain how many private educated students end up in university has helped inform my own presentations. Of course the current government have tried to address this imbalance between state and private schools with the introduction of more cadet units in state schools and national careers service.

And how many FE colleges are fully supported (financially or otherwise) to get their students into universities?

Missed Opportunities
When I travel out of the main cities demographics such as working class white boys miss out. They often don’t know these options are available. Good apprenticeships or even university as future pathway is thin on the ground for way too many students.

Again my experience is anecdotal, but heck the data now supports this.

I have seen many good teachers go out of their way to cater for those who can improve. I salute those who do a good job but shamefully I have witnessed way too many who are supposed to be in charge of giving uplifting and impartial guidance.

Schools are centers of learning and excellence. Way too often careers guidance and future learning is treated like dark art. A pot pourri of sketchy advice.  Often typical underrepresented demographics get left out because of crappy advice. I challenge those who letting students down to stop with the crappy advice, and if you are not sure there are loads of us out here doing a good job, partnering with schools who do this properly.

We can’t afford to keep letting down students like this.

And breathe.


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