CROYDON COMMENTARY: Much work has been done lately to try to improve the borough’s youngsters employability. But little was said about local schools’ GCSE results, writes CHARLOTTE DAVIES
Jamie Audsley, a young, energetic and enthusiastic new councillor, last week laid before the council’s education scrutiny committee a mini-review. It had been carried out with considerable assistance from Croydon Citizens, a youth group.
“How can Croydon develop a high quality education to employment brokerage and support service?” was the report’s premise. The report was well-done and well-presented. There was no doubting the commitment of the councillor and the young people from Croydon Citizens to addressing the difficulties for youngsters in accessing the labour market.
But I was saddened to hear senior education professionals sounding like the Mad Hatter, stating that there was nothing more they could do without more money or more resources. One of the senior teachers claimed that during her career in teaching there had been a big change in the requirement for schools to make greater links with industry.
This was a surprise to me. I spent my childhood in the 1960s happily launching ships at Cammell Lairds shipyard and, separately, getting involved in the marketing of new products such as Wotsits. I clearly remember after one industry lecture on dry ice leaving a large sample at a bus station, not before announcing to the crowd of passers-by that it had fallen from space…
My Sixth Form years were spent staring at mainframe computers and trying to calculate stock control for a local factory, among other things. Since 1990, I have worked in Enterprise Education of one sort or another that all involved education and industry links. There is nothing new about industry and education working together.
The problem is that it is patchy and many schools are poor at sustaining initiatives. That is an issue that school managements need to address.
But at the council’s scrutiny meeting last week, there was an elephant in the room. No one mentioned that there is a fundamental reason why it is difficult for many Croydon youngsters to get employment. No one mentioned the exam results.
The national labour market is changing rapidly. There are very few jobs for people with low skill levels. Those jobs that exist usually have huge competition among applicants. Employers’ organisations are very clear that all employees need good inter-personal skills, time management and other “soft skills” – what used to be regarded as common sense – to be any use in the work place.
We are in a technological revolution. Britain has a significant shortage of skilled workers in maths, science and technology. In those areas there is already wage inflation for new graduates as we pull out of recession. To be skilled in those areas you have to be very able, that is, gaining at least As and Bs at A Level in maths and sciences and moving on to a good degree and often a Master’s.
In Croydon, only 6.7 per cent of 16 to 18-year-old pupils gained at least AAB in A Level subjects recognised by the Department for Education, compared to 15 per cent nationally in all schools and colleges. In Croydon’s neighbouring borough, Sutton, 24.4 per cent of pupils gain AAB at A Level.
The problem can be tracked back all the way down the education system. Croydon’s results at all levels are persistently low, compared to other London Boroughs. We cannot really change employment outcomes for Croydon’s school leavers at 18+ if we do not change the teaching outcomes. We desperately need a vision for Croydon’s education that is owned by all of us and that sets out some clear goals that we can all buy into and support.
Softer key skills
The easiest element of getting youth ready for work is to promote softer key skills both in schools and in all our community activities. It costs nothing.
Softer key skills are those personal attributes that make a person ready for work:
• Presentation skills
• Leadership skills
• Team-working skills
• Time management
Good schools have such skills embedded in their curriculum from the earliest years and set aside time to reflect on their development at regular intervals. When the pupil faces a challenge, they are used to reflecting on how to use their skills to overcome problems; they learn to self-manage. By the time they go to work, they are used to displaying and improving such skills. It takes time to develop these skills and plenty of practice.
We need a vision for every pupil and student in Croydon to be engaged in developing their softer skills. Parents and employers should not allow themselves to be brushed off with excuses if schools are failing to deliver.
Such skills development can be supported by all other agencies engaged with youth activities, from Scouting to churches, mosques and temples. When everyone sings from the same song sheet, it is a powerful message to our youngsters that we want them to be work- and life-ready by the time they leave school.
Child development needs to be at the heart of every policy in Croydon. There are many factors going into restricting the full development of our youth so that they can access any level of learning. We need to look at everything and as a community support parents to get it right. As the governor of a primary school, I know how hard life is for young families currently in some of the most congested areas of Croydon.
Children of all ages need to be able to play outside for four hours a day at least. They need to be given the opportunity to develop properly. They are not designed to sit in front of consuls or screens all day, every day.
• Planning of housing development has to have child development at its heart with play spaces for children that are safe and easily accessible;
• Road and traffic planning needs to calm traffic so that children can navigate their neighbourhood safely and independently;
• Air quality needs to be closely controlled. We are only just understanding the impact of toxins on the developing brain. It is very easy to damage the development of a young brain.
• Housing security needs to be good for all families. When children feel secure they can develop properly; they cannot develop properly where they have no fixed abode, or are living in B&Bs where they feel vulnerable.
The list continues. It also includes ensuring children sleep properly and eat good quality food low in sugar and salt.
We need a council that has the commitment to ask of every decision “how is this going to impact on our children’s development?” Only then might we be sending to schools Croydon children who are ready to learn effectively.
- Charlotte Davies is the chair South Croydon Community Association and a director of Fit 2 Learn CIC
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