April 10, 2015 by Paul Goldsmith
There were many catalysts for my choice to go into teaching back in 2005. Having been a management consultant for ten years, I knew I wanted to do something more fulfilling, to make a difference, and where I could have a decent work life balance as I looked to marry and start a family. But it was a chance meeting with A 15 year old boy called Walid at Cass Business School in London that made me sure it was the right thing to do. Having done my MBA at the business school, I had been asked to be a judge at a business day for local schools. They had written business plans are were presenting them to a panel of judges. Walid stuck out from the moment I went around the different groups asking me questions. He described his groups’s business well, gave great eye contact, smiled and when it came to the presentation he simply blew the others out of the water. After he and his group won, I said to Walid that he should really think about actually launching the business he had talked about. His face darkened. He ‘kissed his teeth’ at me (an expression of contempt) and stepped back, and almost spat out words I will never forget: “don’t be stupid, man. Look at me, think about where I come from. People like me haven’t got a chance with no business.”
I vowed at the point that if I ever became a teacher I would try and help boys (and girls) like Walid to believe they did have a chance. This is why, when I arrived at Queens Park Community School in Kilburn I was so glad to have the chance to launch a ‘Careers Academy’ there. The school has a Business and Enterprise specialism, and walks the walk with that as well as talking the talk. So, the Careers Academy was a sixth form option, in which the pupils, many of which had parents who hadn’t been into university, and some with parents who had never had a job, gained employability skills, were advised by a business mentor, and did a six week paid internship in the summer holiday. But further down the school there were Enterprise days, in which pupils learned about and practised entrepreneurial skills, and importantly, a School Careers Advisor, provided by the Local Authority, who provided one to one Careers and progression (what choices to make at 14,16 and 18) advice. This advice was for every child, and it didn’t just happen once. Those who needed more got more. It was a central part of how the school cut down the number of NEETS (pupils not in Education, Employment or Training), particularly at 16.
So when Ed Miliband announced, in Labour’s education manifesto, that he wanted to guarantee one-to-one Careers advice for every pupil, it cheered me. Because it is so important for every pupil to have the right information, advice and guidance about their future. It cannot just be being pointed to online resources, they need to have someone who knows, and understands what realistic options they have, telling them, and explaining how to actually achieve their aspirations. Schools with a proper process for this have a greater chance of producing pupils who can make their way in the world independently, whatever they want to do. It doesn’t have to just be about pushing them into ‘business’ either. A career can be in anything from art to sport to social work to law. it doesn’t just have to be about academic pathways, but vocational too, something else that Miliband highlighted in his speech. Good careers advice can focus a young person on what they have to do to take advantage of opportunities. Good careers advice can, more importantly, help them believe that they can have a chance to achieve what they want. To make sure they never fell that something is “not for likes of them.”
Those who argue that parents should be giving careers advice miss the point. Some parents do not have the knowledge or expertise. Some parents want so much to help their children but don’t have the ability to. There are some things that schools can do and good careers advice is one of them.