Students at primary and secondary schools returned to school last week to experience their first few days of a revamped 'tough' new curriculum that ministers think will help young people to develop skills that will make them more successful in 'modern Britain'.
A noble cause indeed, but towards the end of their time at school when students should be thinking about their next step, what are the current areas where students tend to struggle, and how can these be overcome?
Presenting their experience and skills
When students are preparing applications for jobs or applying to university I often see them staring blankly at a piece of paper hoping for inspiration. It is often not until students are in their mid teens that they write their first application for an opportunity and have to sell themselves and what they have to offer. Understandably they don't know where to start, and what can be a big help with this is keeping a record of achievements, interests and endeavors throughout their school lives. I'm not talking about their school reports, but instead the 'softer' stuff like representing sports teams, being a prefect, running a charity drive, part-time work and so on.
These should get that piece of paper filling up nicely BUT it's not enough by itself. Everything on that job or uni application needs to be relevant to why it makes them right for the role or course they want. Saying that you work in B&Q on a Saturday is all well and good but how does that make you a better student for the Marine Biology course you want to do? It's that added level of detail that students struggle with initially but when they get it right the impact is fantastic. For example, I once saw a personal statement in which a student compared being a trumpet player in a village orchestra to being a good chemistry student. He argued that the ability to work both individually and as part of a team was key to both disciplines and this shows that the student had really thought about what the course he was aiming for required.
Take a trip on any sort of public transport and one of the first things you notice now is that everyone is looking at their phone rather than interacting with the people around them. Young people in particular are glued to their phone, laptop or games console and they interact with others this way far more so than generations before them. The result is often that their communication skills are lacking by the time they leave school, be it in written or oral form.
When we have taken interns into our department straight from school or onto the first year of our degree programmes, you can see that these communication and presentation skills can be very raw indeed. This obviously has an impact and young people are often unable to put themselves across well, in writing or in person where simple things like body language, eye contact and the ability to create conversation are tested.
Giving students experience of presenting in front of audiences, of understanding how to conduct themselves in an interview scenario and even guiding them on how to prepare and dress for these types of interactions are vital in helping them make the leap from school or college into the real world.
This is my particular bugbear and something that a lot of young people don't pick up by the time they leave school. That proactivity to go out and get things is often lacking and instead many students tend to wait for opportunities to fall in their lap. The students we see who go on to achieve after school or college are the ones who have gone out and obtained those good bits of work experience, who have taken part in clubs, societies and events, and who have gone the extra mile to do and be more than the 'average joe'. They have picked up the phone, gone into offices to see people in person, chased up correspondence, and essentially shown that they have the determination and perseverance to get what they want. That kind of proactivity is something that universities and employers are looking for and something that any young person should be aspiring to add to their armoury.
Placing an importance on more relevant skills for today's society is a worthwhile goal and one that should continue to be at the heart of our development of young people. I think what is key though is giving students a greater awareness of why they are learning what they are, and giving them the ability to assess what they have been taught and then show employers or universities why those skills make them right for a particular work or study route. That ability to self-assess and self-promote is something that can really help a good student to make the most of their schooling and find a next step that suits them.