Degrees of success

Tuesday 20 February 2018

An opportunity to define success for all.....

News that the Government will ‘review’ HE tuition fees and that the Prime Minister is concerned over the perception that vocational qualifications are not properly recognised may just be the catalyst for the debate that many of us yearn for.

The Blairite plan for everyone to go to university was, is and always will be flawed. University is great, for those who wish to go down that route. If they do, and if they have the right skills at the right level then it is the school’s job to get the pupil where they want to go.

However, for many, and I may even stick my neck out and say perhaps the majority, this is not the right route. Perhaps an apprenticeship, or going straight into work, or a vocational course or art school or drama college might be better suited. Nothing contentious here I would guess, so the elephant in the room appears to be why do governments, parents, Heads, teachers and pupils themselves not act accordingly?

My own view is that all of these groups have something in common. They all exist in a society that values academic study above everything else. We talk of a two-tier system. One where everyone strives for an academic programme, and that all other options are there for those who fail. The ‘also-rans’.

It really does not need to be like this. Parents, teachers and government need to redress their inner and underlying prejudices. At its crudest, some parents seem almost embarrassed that their child might not actually want to go to university. At best this embarrassment is caused by their real concern for their child’s future. At worst it could be caused by what family and friends might think.

At the heart of this debate is, I believe, how we define success. GCSEs, A-levels, undergraduate degree, post-graduate degree, profession, salary, bonus, home-ownership and pension is pretty much what a large proportion of our society view as success. Indeed at one time the Government actually produced a league table of what subjects at school led to the highest salaries. The idea that success is based on financial gain is flawed. The idea that this ‘progress’ has to be linear is equally flawed.

The time has come for us to be open-minded and open-hearted when advising our young people. We must not fall into the trap of doing what we do because it’s what everyone else does or what we’ve always done. I welcome the Government’s review and I hope that, rather than a two-tier ‘academic’ vs ‘non-academic’ (and note here how the alternative options are described as ‘non’) debate, we can genuinely see that all of these routes into the future are parallel and are to be walked with equal enthusiasm and pride.

I am not ‘anti-university’ (in spite of being told by Michael Gove that I was an enemy of aspiration for saying that not everyone should strive for a university education. As an aside he also said that he thought that everyone should be above average which I tried to point out is not statistically possible). I am anti-academic snobbery. I am as enthusiastic about university degrees as I am about apprenticeships, arts courses, drama school, vocational training and all other routes. I am enthusiastic and passionate about helping young people and their families understand that there are many doors to the future and that all are equally worthwhile, regardless of what society in general and sometimes those close to them believe, say or suggest.


New comment

  1. March 8, 2018 10:45

    by Ruth Greenwood

    As a teacher and a parent, it is most refreshing to read this especially as it is written by a head teacher. Thank you.