From education to employment

Updates from the Edge Foundation annual lecture and conference

Earlier this month we held the fourth Edge Foundation Annual Lecture and Conference at the RSA in London. Newly promoted Minister of State for Skills and Enterprise, Matthew Hancock, delivered the lecture and despite the early start we had a great turnout. As the Minister dashed off to America on official duties, the conference continued with the running theme of further education at 14+.

Lord Baker launched his new vision for 14-19 education, Career Colleges, an announcement which had already received considerable media coverage that morning. Career Colleges, which will be established by Further Education (FE) Colleges, will specialise in subjects offering excellent career prospects in the local labour market. These will include hospitality, catering and tourism; finance and insurance; health and care; sport and event management; and construction.

Each College will be supported by local employers, who will help design and deliver the curriculum. They will offer ‘real-world’ challenges, coupled with work experience – enabling students to develop their wider employability skills.

Career Colleges join University Technical Colleges and Studio Schools as an alternative path to success for young people, specifically one beginning at 14. Across the day we heard from leaders in business and education discussing the effects, busting the myths, singing the praises and dissecting the issues that stem from these institutions- all very engaging.  For me though, it was the young people themselves, students from The Black Country UTC and Fulham Enterprise Studio that really brought the conference to life. To hear how a school works from a school’s point of view is interesting, to hear how it works from an employer’s point of view is enlightening, but to hear how it works from a student perspective is another thing altogether. The students who spoke were passionate about their specialisms and completely involved with their studies.

One of the common criticisms of transferring at 14 is that it narrows down options for young people, that they are required to choose a ‘job for life’ when they are barely a teenager. However, I wonder how many of us are in the same job, or even the same industry, we started in fresh out of college or university? Far from closing doors, being exposed to the world of work early on actually leads to many more being opened. One of the students was asked what she wanted to be doing ten years from now, she told us that she’s considering careers in either engineering, aerospace or even possibly veterinary science!

Importantly all the students said they had chosen to take an alternative route because their current school wasn’t able to provide them with the opportunities they wanted. If a student knows what they want to do then we should allow them to embrace it, even at 14. If they want to explore engineering or healthcare or finance or events management then they should be able to study in an environment conducive to that interest. There is absolutely no denying that core academic learning also needs to be present in their education but when that learning is combined with and put into the context of their interests it becomes much more engaging. 

As part of our Six Steps for Change we want to see young people at 14 given a choice of learning experiences and pathways based on their motivation, talents and aspirations, not pushed down a route because it is deemed superior or conversely because the student is labelled ‘non-academic’. Career Colleges, UTCs and Studio Schools, along with many other initiatives, are incorporating our Six Steps into their own visions, values and manifestos and in time we hope to see an education system that recognises that there are many paths to success.

Jan Hodges is chief executive of Edge, the independent education charity dedicated to raising the status of technical, practical and vocational learning


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