Ofsted Chief Inspector says pupils should know about the opportunities open to them. So why the fixation on Oxbridge?

Janet Downs's picture
“The second challenge is to ensure, from early on, that students know what opportunities are open to them and develop the confidence to make the most of these. They need tutoring, guidance and encouragement…,” writes Sir Michael Wilshaw, Ofsted Chief Inspector.

Yes, ALL pupils should be made aware of available opportunities but this isn’t happening.

Schools have a statutory duty to provide independent careers advice. But this law is unlikely to stop those schools which act in their own interests by plugging their own provision.

So is Sir Michael calling for schools to ensure pupils know about post-16 provision at other establishments: further education (FE) colleges, sixth-form colleges, apprenticeships? Is he reminding schools that they should make pupils aware of all post-school opportunities: universities, apprenticeships, employment?

Alas, No. Sir Michael is fixated on one post-18 route: progression to a Russell Group university. Other universities won’t do. Apprenticeships won’t do. Neither will employment. Sir Michael continues:

“…as well as a chance to meet other young people who have embraced higher education.”

It’s right, of course, that pupils should be encouraged to aim high. And, yes, they should be able to meet young people to discuss pathways. But that’s not just university. Let young people meet students from the regional college, apprentices, young entrepreneurs, trainee chefs and hairdressers, young people in the armed forces, students at drama school…

Good careers education gives pupils the skills to make choices wisely. This means weighing up their ambitions with a realistic view of their abilities and circumstances. For example, the best choice for some pupils will be a local non-Russell Group university to reduce expenses and future debt. For others, not going to university will be the best choice for them.

Sir Michael implies that schools are “failing” if they don’t get pupils into Russell Group universities. But this makes it more likely that schools will influence pupils to make choices which in the end are not right for the pupils but are in the interests of the school.

Yes – pupils should be made aware of ALL the opportunities available to them.

Yes – they should receive high-quality careers education which helps them make a choice wisely.

Yes – they should receive independent, impartial careers advice.

And Yes – Ofsted should ensure that school fulfil their statutory duty by inspecting careers education and guidance.

But No – pupils should not feel they ought to go to Oxbridge just because the school and other adults say it is the most “prestigious” route.

In the end, the choice of what young adults choose to do at 18 is up to them. And no-one should judge either them or their schools on the choices they make.

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