Despite the song, there are a range of things I’d like for Christmas, which aren’t my two front teeth (which, thankfully I still have – despite some very fast balls at the batting crease). Near the top of my wish list for Santa – or Justine Greening in this case – is a genuine chance to engage with pupils at schools and show the opportunities available in technical and vocational pathways.
So when the Government’s new Careers Strategy was launched recently, alongside new guidance from the Department for Education which demands schools allow access to FE providers, it was almost as if Christmas had come early for the sector. This means that come the New Year, all local authority maintained schools and academies are compelled to ensure that technical education and training providers are given access and the opportunity to speak to pupils about apprenticeships, while the Careers Strategy compels schools – and indeed colleges – to develop their own careers advice provision.
Why does all of this matter? Because schools can be resistant to promoting the merits of technical education or the opportunities offered through apprenticeships, meaning that often, pupils who would be perfectly suited to a vocational qualification miss out on the option because they’re unaware of its existence. There is, after all, a financial imperative to retaining a pupil for many schools which can lead to vested interests, and a closed shop. That kind of thing does nothing to open up opportunity for our young people, and those who require an education which will give them the skills they need to join our workforce.
So what’s the possible New Year headache? Well, when the clock strikes 12.01am on 2 January, and schools are supposed to have a policy statement which outlines how we, as an FE provider, can engage with their pupils, will they? Will there actually be that policy statement, and more than this, will there be any greater engagement? The old saying goes that you can lead a horse to water, but you cannot make it drink; that may well relate heavily to this new guidance, and wider strategy. I would hope that schools across the nation do suddenly open up access, and give guidance to their pupils on technical pathways, but – and call me a cynic if you will – I won’t be holding my breath on this front.
With that said, I can quite clearly state that if Government does, this time, manage to change things and improve access, opening up opportunities, this Christmas will have been one of the best for our sector in a number of years. And with the recently launched Social Mobility strategy, it may lead to significantly improved outcomes for many within our society.