The Reason Why Job Adverts Should Not State; Degree Required!

cashier5n-2-webForgive the graphic but the key words here are ‘Studies level required: Bachelor Degree‘. This is from a Job advert for Crew (Cashiers). In my view possibly one of the most misguided things to do when an organisation is trying to attract top quality skilled employees.

THIS is why I think that it is misguided for an organisation to do this. Firstly there are many skilled people looking for work who have been in full-time education up to the age of 18, gaining qualifications along the way including A-levels and other equivalent Level 3 qualifications. These people may have decided not to attend university for many reasons but because of this they are put in a position where they are not even allowed to apply for certain job roles. This creates a problem for the economy and the rate of unemployment in this country. Secondly, organisations are missing out on a huge talent pool of skilled people just because they do not have a degree.

For me, a degree does not prove that you have skills for the work place or even the technical ability to do a job. I know that may sound strange coming from a teacher who has a degree but let me explain why. I felt that I had had a good educational start to life by the time I had completed my Level 3 qualifications. The only reason I went into Higher Education and did a Business degree was to become a teacher. Why? It was the only way to get on the main pay scale! I learnt almost nothing additional from doing my degree. I then did my PGCE, which was important, as I needed to be informed about teaching and to be eased into the teaching profession. For me, the PGCE is almost like on the job training, learning and developing the invaluable skills I would need to become a teacher. I then became a teacher of Business. While doing my PGCE, and then being a teacher, I started to learn about how to do the job and further developed the skills I had learnt by the end of further education. I even understood business better as I was in one. I can genuinely say that my degree was a total waste of my time as I had forgotten everything they told me. Regarding my knowledge for teaching, I knew in the early days that as long as I was a week or so ahead of the learners in my Business knowledge and planning I would be fine. This proved to be the case. I now have more Business subject knowledge through actually teaching the subject than through my degree.

Why therefore would you do a degree? There are some very good reasons, firstly because you have such a love of a subject that you want to pursue it further. Secondly, because you want to have that experience and maybe gain some life skills? Thirdly, to get the job that asks for you to be educated to degree level. Other than that I am struggling for reasons!

To go back to what I said previously; ‘While doing my PGCE, and then being a teacher, I started to learn about how to do the job and developed the skills I had learnt by the end of further education‘. For me, this is why having a degree should not be a prerequisite for any job. A degree does not teach you those skills you actually need. That should start to be developed through compulsory and further education. It is then polished during your early years in the workplace. I cannot honestly think of any job, that requires a degree, where you do not learn your trade mainly on the job. Even a doctor spends many years doing degrees, doctorates etc to prepare them but actually they learn all about the job, on the job! This technical skill development includes observing procedures, having a go themselves and also taking advice from others that are more experienced. Surely the knowledge aspect could come as part of that ‘on the job’ process and does not need to be tested through exams in a degree? Although, as we know, traditional thinking dictates this.

More and more people over time are not going to have degrees. There are two reasons for this. Firstly, because the government focus is to have more people in apprenticeships. This creates a problem in itself. If more young people take on an apprenticeship then they will not be able to get any other job requiring a degree. This next comment may be hard to take for some teachers but I am very sure that if you choose to do a rigorous apprenticeship you MAY be a more skilled teacher than those that become a teacher straight from completing a degree. I have actually seen this recently in schools where people teaching without degrees do a better job than the ones with a degree. Why? Because the person without the degree has had more time to develop the skills needed through the workplace than the degree graduate. This is not a blanket statement by the way. The second reason I eluded to is that more and more people are turning their backs on university because of high fees and other personal economic reasons.

THIS is why I think that organisations are being short sighted when they state on a job advert ‘Studies level required: Bachelor Degree‘. Employers need to be open to offering other non-degree educated people roles within the organisation. This would mean that a prospective employer may attract an even more rounded and skilled person to apply which will then be better for the organisation.

I know that this blog will not hold much favor with educational traditionalists but if you would like to make any comments I would welcome the discussion.

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Developing Character, Grit & Resilience In The Classroom.

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THIS is how teachers can deliver character, resilience and grit every day in education. These ideas come from 11 years educational experience through my own teaching and observing the best practice of others.

The DFE & Nicky Morgan MP announced the Character Awards on the 8th December 2014. Educational institutions are to be rewarded who develop and build character, resilience and grit in their learners. The intention being that more schools focus on developing well rounded young people prepared for life in modern Britain. This was brought about following warnings from business leaders that school leavers are entering the workplace without the “soft skills” needed to succeed in the world of work.

About the Character Awards, Education Secretary Nicky Morgan said:

“Delivering the best schools and skills is a key part of our long-term economic plan that is turning Britain around.

As well as high academic standards, this means providing opportunities for all young people to develop the character and resilience they need to succeed in modern Britain.

For pupils who may have faced challenges or difficulties in their personal life, these initiatives run by former armed services personnel can offer a sense of greater aspiration and can help build the skills and confidence they need to go on to good jobs and successful futures.

Coupled with the new character awards schools will now have the tools and support they need to ensure they develop well rounded pupils ready to go onto an apprenticeship, university or the world of work”.

These comments came about after a; Review of military ethos alternative provision projects (DFE Report, 7th December 2014). One of the main comments that I unpicked from this report was that ‘the majority of teachers interviewed for this review tended not to view Military Ethos AP as a way of improving attainment. Rather, it was considered a means to support resilience, self-confidence and inter-personal skills, which were thought to influence attainment‘.

This could be viewed as a laudable attempt from the government to make improvements to education. Indeed anything that is introduced into education, and carried out effectively, that improves the life skills of young people has to be a good thing. However, I do have a small problem with the report! While I have no problem with using the military and their ethos, I do have a problem with the fact that it seems to be based solely around alternative provision. Again, no problem with this being provided for an ‘alternative’ learner (as it is proven to engage young people back into learning) but my problem is with why it is not aimed at ‘all’ learners. As an experienced teacher in secondary education I have seen many academic and engaged students who also do not have these key soft skills. I am not suggesting that all learners should be taught by the military. I am suggesting however that educational policy should dictate that teachers should be instilling these skills wherever and whenever they can and not all teaching efforts should be towards the exam.

Let us look for a moment at what these key words actually mean;

Grit: ‘Courage and determination despite difficulty‘.

Resilience: ‘Able to quickly return to a previous good condition‘.

Character: The quality of being determined and able to deal with difficult situations‘ or; ‘The particular combination of qualities in a person or place that makes them different from others‘.

My feeling is that these skills could and should be taught to every young person, by every teacher, every day and in every lesson in schools and colleges. The skills should be developed before young people leave to go into higher education or employment where these skills are required by individuals to be a success.

How can this be done? For me, a very simple common sense approach works that should not add any workload. Firstly, take any opportunity to talk to young people and consistently encourage them. Re-assure them that difficult situation’s should be approached in a systematic way rather like solving a problem. Model this behaviour for young people and help them work out the process to tackle the difficult situation/problem. Help the learner to make their own choices to overcome this. Show them that it is absolutely fine to fail and that is actually part of the bigger picture of learning. Emphasize that using failure and looking at it in a positive and constructive way can help make them become more successful. Demonstrate and show examples of people, both famous and local, who have come back from a particularly difficult or negative situation and returned ‘to a previous good condition’. A great current example that could be used in discussion with older children is that of Stephen Hawking (highlighted in the film; The Theory of Everything). He was struck down at a young age with Motor Neurone Disease and consigned a wheelchair. However, he has shown resilience in continuing his work and being regarded as having one of the most brilliant minds of our time. Another example that could be used is this quote from a man who overcame some initial educational set backs and famously said “I failed my exam in some subjects, but my friend passed. Now he’s an engineer in Microsoft and I am the owner” (Bill Gates).

THIS is therefore what teachers must impress upon young people more than anything. Encourage learners, through discussion, that actually it is the bad times, failures or negative experiences that we overcome and challenge head on that are the ones that make us stronger and a more rounded person. Moreover using these experiences as an opportunity can directly help the learner in becoming more skilled and therefore more successful in life.

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Footnote: THIS Education’s mission is to share learning & teaching ideas for skills development in education. I know that the successful teachers will be focusing on skills learning within their teaching all the time. I would look forward to, and thank you in advance for, receiving any comments, ideas or thoughts regarding ways of learning that could be shared with teaching colleagues.

Learning to Lead: reflections on a new role.

Advice for a school leader. Great tips on people/communication skills that ALL leaders should display…

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Ten years ago I was in an interview with my then headteacher. I was on a temporary fixed term contract and had written to him asking to be considered for a permanent post prior to the job going out to tender. I had done this on the advice of my then HoD, and it turned out to be the right advice. The head gave me a new contract and told me he was pleased with the progress I’d made as an NQT. But his final question really threw me: “Where do you see yourself when you’re my age? Where do you see your career going?” This wasn’t something I could answer as I had never given it any thought, and I believe I had good reason for this.

The first two years in any teaching career are hugely challenging. During my PGCE and NQT years I’d taught in three different…

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Teachers – Going, Going, Gone! – The Advice…

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One of the main reasons I set up THIS Education is to provide advice on skills based learning in education. I would also like to help develop skills for people in the workplace. This feels like a great place to start. I know that the education profession is in need of some help through this difficult phase in teaching and if what I am blogging about can help develop a teachers/school leaders skills then, I am happy!

I believe that being a teacher is the best job in the world. Teachers make such a difference to young people and we need the best teachers to stick with the profession, if they have that opportunity, as future generations depend on them.

I have been made aware of a fellow blogger who has written a great article on the challenge of workload in the teaching profession. Andy Warner not only gives his opinion on what the workload problems are in education but also gives some great advice on how to manage this workload. His blog titled ‘Taking Control; Dealing with the Workload!’ outlines fantastic advice any teacher could follow if they feel the need for some answers on managing workload.

In summary the advice given is this:

1) Every day create a to-do list, which is completed the afternoon/evening before and prioritizes the important tasks for the next day.

2) Try not spend too long planning. Plan the afternoon/evening before for the lessons the next day. This will help to keep on top of any changing needs in classes as they develop.

3) Marking should be planned and try as often as possible to use peer assessment, building personal reflection time into lessons which will cut down a teachers marking time. Keep records of marking to make sure no class is neglected. Concentrate on doing only 3-4 sets of books a week and space the marking out.This keeps it regular but should also mean that the teacher is not overloaded.

4) Be strict about the time you spend working. Have cut off times and try not to take work home. It may be more beneficial of course for a particular teachers work life balance if they do take some work home. But again keep it to set cut off points during the evening or weekend.

For me, and as all teachers would probably agree the profession is a vocation. I would work 10-11 hours per day, Monday-Friday. I used to do this when I was teaching up until last year. In broad terms this meant working from 7:30am to around 6:00pm for 5 days. 50-55 hours per week. This ensured that I got through all the work that is and was expected. If a teacher/school leader can buy into this amount of hours to be put into the job then it should be enough for a good work life balance. This should also be enough for anyone monitoring the work of teachers and school leaders.

This is a great way to follow up my previous blog ‘Teachers – Going, Going, Gone!’. I hope all teachers and school leaders who are struggling with their workload read Andy’s blog and use his constructive advice.

Teachers – Going, Going, Gone!

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I have been trying not to blog about the state of the teaching profession but for me the last week has really hit home how bad things are. I had my own horrible experience in the profession that I love this time last year which really hit me hard and made me think about my role as a teacher and school leader. It eventually led to my side step out of the classroom and into other educational work.This week I have had several conversations with ex colleagues who are all looking to leave as soon as possible. Even without another job to go to! These colleagues are currently in schools from a cross section of OFSTED ratings so this tells me that the reason people are leaving the profession in droves is not solely down to working in schools in pressurized environments. Through these discussions the three main reasons why teachers are leaving came across to me.

1) Teachers feeling like they are constantly under the microscope in being observed on a daily basis (or more).

2) The constant drive for data, progress, testing and re-testing of students is stifling the creativity of teaching and making teachers fall out of love with the job. It should also be noted that this is stifling the creativity of students.

3) Teachers working 14-15 hour days and not being able to create a reasonable work life balance to spend time with their own families.

How has the profession got itself into such a mess? The Secret Teacher in their article for The Guardian (14th February 2015) gives a really interesting account of where education is. Interestingly it also now looks to have finished that person with the profession. Their version seems to concentrate heavily on workload and behaviour. In many ways the former is what I am suggesting within the reasons I have given.

Workload certainly seems to be the crucial element. The DFE recently felt that a Workload Challenge Survey was required which identified Ofsted, marking, data, lack of PPA and meetings as the main contributors to an unmanageable workload. These are the things that my ex colleagues talked about. Its really sad that even with government promises that this will be looked at Teachers are still saying enough is enough. This tells me that the situation is very serious. In the future who will be there to teach our young people and support their development? I assume that there is a new bunch of super human teachers who are being trained? People can only take so much. They will then, like what my experience from the past week is telling me, just leave. Just like I did. Its unsustainable! Constant Ofsted and ‘Mocksted’ inspections, testing and retesting, marking of testing and 14-15 hour days. Whats the point? That’s what teachers are asking themselves now.

This is what the problem is. It starts with the National PISA Scores. Our government are transfixed with making sure that our educational system is comparable to other nations, based on test results. Have we lost sight of the point of education here? My answer is yes! Education is about teaching the child about a subject, set of skills, their holistic development or more than likely all three. Please note, not one mention of constant testing. While we are talking about testing, testing leads to additional data and scrutiny on every individual young learner. While we are talking of data, every observation is done with data in mind and how the lesson is put together based on each learners data. All this increases the workload that a teacher has. Government policy seems to have created a vicious circle.

We seem to have lost the point of learning. Learning is about the enjoyment and the engagement in the subject, skill or specific development need. This goes for both the teacher and learner. So my view is to forget about constant testing and re-testing. This would then lead to less data, happier learners, happy teachers, less marking, less extra hours through intervention classes and ultimately a happier workforce. My recent blog at thiseducation talks about testing and exams in more detail, making suggestions about how make our education system better.

Does Passing Traditional Exams Make You A Success in Life?

This is where I am on the subject of traditional exams being the only guide to a persons progress and ability. Why do we use this approach to check peoples readiness for the world of work? Why is getting 8 GCSE’s at A*-C by the age of 16 (and showing progress in them all)  the requirement for a person to prove they are ready for the next stage of their journey? The same can be said at 18 to gain A-levels, 21 to gain a degree and so on. I know… I hear you say it… What are you talking about, there are vocational options! Yes there are, except even these are not seen as rigorous or count in the same way anymore unless they have an exam as part of the process. At least this is certainly the case in secondary education.

Let me explain why we don’t need to pass traditional exams to be successful in life. There are many people who have become success stories after either not completing school or not being interested in traditional exams. Entrepreneurs are quite often some of those people, for example, Lord Sugar or Sir Richard Branson. These people are famous examples of successful people. What about an example of someone who is not a millionaire but still could be considered a success?

I left school with only a couple of GCSE’s but I did scrape a C grade in English and Maths. I then took BTEC qualifications, a HND and then completed a Business Degree, avoiding exams as much as possible along the way. The few exams that I sat I scraped through to say the least! After a very successful few years working in business and going from a graduate trainee position to various managerial positions and being responsible for teams of people, I had the epiphany and became a teacher completing a PGCE with Grade 1 teaching scores. All this while still being in my mid 20’s. Since then I have had 10 very successful years as a teacher ensuring my students reached at least expected targets and more often than not, aspirational targets year on year in GCSE and vocational subjects. I also worked for 6 of the 10 years as an Assistant Headteacher. I now work with a national educational awarding body training teachers and schools to develop skills in young people. The reason I have been successful is not anything to do with passing traditional exams, as I cannot remember anything from any exam I had ever taken, but mainly from the skills that I developed. This has helped me to become a better practitioner and also to be able to lead teams to successful outcomes. I would suggest that this story demonstrates success and it had nothing to do with remembering key facts and recalling them for an exam.

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Lets take this argument further. I would say the reason for the praying being displayed in this drawing (above) is down to living in the hope that they do not have an off day, or that they are ill on the day, or that all the key facts have been learnt for that 2 hour exam. Why do we spend all that time preparing for a situation (the exam) that will never happen again in our lives. I will go as far as saying it is an entirely false situation and does not prepare a young person for anything that will come up again in work or in their lives.

This point was made from the other side of the coin by Harvard Physics Professor Eric Mazur when he made a speech at the SSAT Conference and reported by Schools Week (December 2014). He was calling for a complete rethink of assessments when he said; “At Harvard we have admitted people with straight A’s who, when they show up, are missing the most fundamental skills. The problem is that exams fail to mimic real life, relied heavily on memory and and do not engage higher thinking skills” He went on to talk about the skill of problem solving and when you have a problem in life you generally know what the desired outcome is, but it is the solution that is unknown. He then gave an example of an exam question where the problem is of a different nature. This example was taken from a physics question where the student has to work out the velocity of a car using formula that has been locked in their heads from revision. He then stated that “you end up applying a known procedure to an unknown answer“.

A couple of questions to help us think a little more about this argument: When does anyone have to pass an exam to get a pay rise in their job? Perhaps there is a need to pass an exam to get through an annual review at work? Finally, when do people sit in rows, on their own, completing a question paper about previously remembered facts in the workplace? I would suggest that for the vast majority of people (if not all) the answer is never. So, again, why do teachers spend all their time preparing young people for exams?

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There is a reason and it is that an exam is the only way we have to measure the progress of young people. Skills learning is very hard to assess and show progress in. I have some sympathy for this argument although I do know an awarding body that has found creative ways of doing it.

Professor Mazur then outlined 5 ways how assessment could be adapted to suit the skills needed for the modern world and made some qualifying comments.

1) Have open book exams to mimic the real world including access to the internet.

2) A focus on feedback rather than ranking. “Ranking is a myth anyway, how can a person be captured with a letter or number.

3)  Focus on skills not content. “What do we want our students to be able to do at the end of the course?

4) All assessment should be run by colleagues or external adjudicators.

5) More peer and self assessment to let students place their work in the context of others. “Unless you can judge and regulate your own learning, you cannot advance.

Finally, this comment by Mazur gives the final rallying call. “Unless we rethink assessment, we will continue to educate the followers of yesterday rather than the leaders of tomorrow.

This is why it is so important that skills and not content become the focus of learning for the 21st century. This is why we need to concentrate on skills based learning and adapt assessment to what is described by Mazur and the arguments brought up in this blog. This is also why traditional exams do not make you a success in life.

National Skills Audit Anyone?

This is my easiest blog yet. The reason being that it is largely written by another person…

All I ask you to do is read this article titled ‘It is time for a national skills audit’ http://bit.ly/1zighOD produced by SecEd and featuring the comments of Maggie Walker CEO at awarding body ASDAN.

These are just a few individual pieces of information from the article that particularly resonated with me if you do not wish to read the full article. Although please do as it is most definitely on the money!

“For too long, successive education secretaries and politicians have at best ignored and at worst denigrated what they describe as “soft skills” as worthless and lacking rigour. What is far more likely, however, is that these qualities and basic human traits have been set to one side because they are too difficult to assess, measure and attach a currency to for use in performance tables”.

“These skills are vital if we are to produce properly functioning citizens who occupy a worthwhile place in society, and for the creation of a productive, contributing workforce. Without all of these elements, in combination with high standards of academic achievement, we cannot possibly hope to compete in a competitive global economy”.

“Headteachers told the commissioners that it was less important to them how many GCSEs school-leavers achieved and at what grade, than the extent to which their students, particularly those who were most disadvantaged, would thrive and succeed in the outside world. For schools with high Pupil Premium funding, this presents a delicate balancing act of ensuring pupils leave with good qualifications but also those vital life-skills that will see them through in life. With appropriate support and teaching both can be achieved”. My recent blog ‘A Different Baccalaureate Option For Soft Skills’ http://t.co/cyc18Ijivt outlines how a balanced curriculum could work in Key Stage 4.

“If Ms Morgan is serious about the acquisition of skills, and about raising future generations of academically rounded, and social and emotionally balanced young adults, then it is time for all political parties to acknowledge that skills-based competence does matter, and it does count”.

“Competing with Finland this week and Shanghai the next for grades in international performance tables cannot be the way forward. How can we plan and execute educational reforms without first seeing the bigger picture”.

This is what I agree with totally. I want to see this National Skills Audit happen. It is what education needs right now. Not more change, but rather concentrate on what the brilliant teachers do out there every day: Building rounded learners equipped for the 21st century!