Saturday, 10 September 2016

Grammar schools - The answer to the wrong question

Education, education, education. That was supposed to be the priority. But it seems no one in government for the last 25 years has actually bothered to think about what we are actually trying to do. I was educated in the 1960's/70's. I went to two comprehensive schools. For the record they were Finchley Catholic High School and Orange Hill Senior High School. At the time, there were three types of schools. These were Comprehensives, where most of us went, a few Grammar Schools (Barnet retained three - St Michaels, Henrietta Barnett and QE Boys) and Private Schools.

When I left Orange Hill in June 1981, I initially worked as a painter and decorator. I'd learned this trade during my period at FCHS, when I studied Building Studies - Decoration and Design. This course was designed for people who were not deemed University material and was outsourced to The Curriculum Centre in Byng Road. They also taught Motor vehicle engineering. I was always highly impressed with the curriculum centre. As well as decorating, I learned basic bricklaying skills. That was highly useful when we were developing our studios.

I now employ 12 people at the studios. I get CV's from people all the time. Young people who are desperate to work in the music industry. What skills do they need to work at my business?

We have four types of staff, cleaners, reception staff, engineers and managers. What skills do they need? The cleaners simply need to know how to operate a hoover and a mop. The reception staff need to be able to answer a phone, enter bookings into a booking system, read emails, work a till and deal with basic enquiries about studios and musical products. They must also be able to fill tea/coffee machines and fill vending machines. Finally they need to be able to open up, work alarm systems, do end of day safety checks and lock up. Engineers have to be able to operate complex musical recording and PA equipment, perform repairs and provide advice for customers. Managers need to do all of the above, organise rosters, deal with problems, order products and anything else that happens to turn up.

Whilst our business is specialist and niche, most businesses have the same basic requirements. We outsource much to specialist suppliers etc, such as our website hosting and maintenance. We generally use local suppliers. If we can't do something we hire in an expert. They do the same with us. What has all of this got to do with education? As an employer, I see on a day to day basis young people who are the product of our education system. I never cease to be shocked just how unprepared so many of our young people are for the jobs market. I agree that our brightest students need the best education. Where I differ from Theresa May and the Tories, is that I also think the less bright pupils also need the best edcuation, tailored for their differing needs. Our education system is not geared up to supply the people we need to run our businesses.

You would think that being able to answer a phone and follow a simple script is not too demanding, but sadly many of the candidates we see cannot even perform this basic task. Many completely lack confidence to deal with people. Many of them will simply sit on mobile phones and scowl at customers when they enter the building. It seems that the current generation of youngsters think sitting on social media all day is a right and work comes second.

The whole tone of the debate is being set by pushy, Tory voting, middle class parents, who want to ensure that there is a read supply of elitist schools for their often not very bright offspring. When children should be playing, they are being forced to study for entrance exams for schools. These tests do not really test the intelligence of children, they simply weed out those with parents too poor to pay tutors who know the curricula for the entrance tests.

There is no doubt that some children benefit greatly from grammar schools. Generally these children will do well in any environment. I have some sympathy with the argument that poor kids at Grammar schools have the chance to compete with rich kids in private education, but the sad truth is that the numbers of poor children at grammar schools is small. They tend not to be in the worst areas and the children that tend to pass tend to have had coaching.

The real problem though is that too many of the children at the bottom of the tables are thrown to the wolves. I had no University education, but there were opportunities when I left school to develop. We need to have an education system that gives all a future. We need more technical courses and more life skills. We also need to get kids off the social media addiction. Spending billions on a policy which benefits a tiny number whilst ignoring the millions who have no preparation for life is true folly.

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