Friday, 23 March 2012

Are our schools failing our children??

The question is simple, are our secondary schools failing our children?  You will obviously need to hear more than that to make a decision so let me tell you why I am asking this question.  I work in a college, interviewing the students and I love my work, I really do.  From there I have heard a lot from the students and seen disappointment on their faces when what the schools have got them to study, does not help them with their career pathway.

For the first few years at secondary school our children study all the same subjects. Then, usually in year 9, they select the subjects they want to study for GCSE.  When I was at school, this was quite straight forward and you chose subjects you enjoyed and studied those. Back in the late 90's BTEC's were introduced to secondary schools after originally only being used in further or higher education.  The idea was never to have these to replace 'traditional' GCSE's but to complement them.

Before I go on, I want you to know that I do not oppose BTEC's nor do I think they should be removed as they do serve a purpose.  They are practical, hands on courses that students can thrive in and can give them a great experience of a subject that they may not otherwise receive.  I feel it should be student/parent choice if they want to study them.

The BTEC is now in schools and over the past few years, I have noticed a trend in secondary schools that are offering more and more BTEC's and I have to question why.  The BTEC, as far as I can tell, while in secondary school, is setup so the student does not fail.  I have spoken with some teachers and they all agree.  Students can re-submit work until they reach a level that is passable.  Students are happy with that and the schools seem to be too as it keeps their result levels up - make of that what you will.  Schools explain to parents/carers/students why the child is studying for a BTEC and the advantages.  Parents during these sessions are reassured that they are the equivalent to a certain number of GCSE's which is true, they are equivalent but NOT the same as.  This is where the issues arise. Students who want to go on to study A Levels, cannot use the BTEC marks as part of the entry requirements in most further educational establishments.  If an A Level course asks for 5 GCSE grades, they mean 5 GCSE grades.  Not 3 GCSE's and a BTEC. 

If a student is looking to go to college to continue the BTEC route then that is great.  They can follow the path straight through and the basics they have learnt at school become their foundation.  If, on the other hand they want to do something different, issues can arise.  A good example of this is, a few times, I have had students who want to study medicine.  Their school have put them in for BTEC science and not the GCSE.  To gain entry onto the A Level sciences, you need to have the GCSE's.  I have to sit there a let down a students dreams gently and watch them sometimes get upset. I do tell them that they can go into the medical arena in another area but they usually just want to be a doctor.  Or, a student wants to study A Levels but they are studying 3 BTEC's and only 3 GCSE's.  This will not give them the entry requirements on an A Level course.    Then you get the parents who will argue for their children - and quite rightly so, as I know I would - I always just explain these are our entry requirements.  The parents cannot understand why the schools told them these qualifications are best for their children when clearly they were not.

Some teachers will argue that the students thrive better in the BTEC environment rather than the GCSE ones.  I still think that is something that the parents and students have the right to chose.

I think the schools need to be clearer with students and parents about what they are studying. I would go so far as to say, schools should stop trying to compare them with GCSE's and leave them as a stand alone qualification.  They are separate and they are different. The students and parents would then have more information to make those informed choices.  The schools should not tell people they have to study something when it is not going to help long term.  Then it comes back to league tables.  So many schools are worried about staying high on the league table and I wonder if this is their way of staying on top - leagues tables are another discussion totally! But, if this is the case, then they have failed some students whose life ambitions could be dashed just because they were not offered the right information at the right time of their lives.

Your thoughts are appreciated on this subject.