Early in the 1990s I once spent three-days on a placement at what is now BMW’s Cowley works in Oxford, where the mini is produced. I was on a scheme was designed to help those of us in education, at all levels from the classroom to senior leaders in universities, understand more about how industry and commerce ticked. Indeed, there are still such schemes around today, most notably for school leaders.
It was, therefore interesting to read in today’s Independent newspaper that Business Secretary Vince Cable apparently had some unflattering remarks to say about secondary school teacher’s knowledge of life outside the schoolroom. During my Cowley visit what struck me forcibly was the lack of reciprocal knowledge on the part of those working in industry about what was happening in schools. For instance, many businesses have been caught out in recent years by the growth in the numbers of young people attending university, and have in some cases struggled to make better use of the extra knowledge and skills that graduates bring to the workplace compared with those that leave school after ‘A’ levels.
Still, where I do agree with the Business Secretary is that much more needs to be achieved on the careers education front. I suggested in a recent post that the large recruitment agencies might help with this task. I confess to chairing one of the education panels for the Recruitment Employers Confederation, so I am not a totally unbiased or objective observer. Nevertheless, far more than say the CBI or Institute of Directors, REC already has links with schools through the supply teacher market and could use its expertise in the wider employment scene to work with government on developing a new approach to careers education and work experience. The short section in ‘Tough Young Teachers’, shown recently on BBC3, was an interesting cameo of how a pupil benefitted from even an effectively developed placement in a high street opticians shop.
But, it is time to return to Mr Cable’s remarks. While it is true that the majority of graduates that apply for teaching are below 25 when they decide on a career in the classroom, there are a sizeable minority of career changes that have in most cases had experience of the workplace.
In 2012, the latest year data are available for, of the 55,000 or so graduate would-be teachers, and virtually all would-be secondary school teachers, nearly 20,000 were over the age of 25 when they applied for teacher training according to the figures produced by the GTTR arm of UCAS. In addition, there were around 5,000 direct entrants to teaching that year through the Graduate Training Programme that largely will have come from the wider workforce. This is before you consider any other teachers whose partners work outside education and can discuss the differences between the work of commerce and that of education over the dinner table.
Characterising teachers as ignorant of the world of commerce may have raised a laugh with Mr Cable’s audience, but it doesn’t really convey the whole picture of how schools and business interact. There is room for improvement, but it certainly won’t come about by creating mutual distrust and antipathy.