Education: We need a vocational option

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From Mervyn Le Masurier, managing director, Richmond Training & Consulting.

I READ the letter (JEP, 20 May) from the doctors and team of the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service with interest. The conclusions they draw echo almost exactly my conclusions from a review I did last year of the Jersey Apprenticeship Scheme.

What they are saying is that many young people in Jersey are suffering stress, even mental health problems, and a sense of being overwhelmed by the education process, in some cases at a very early age. This is all very worrying.

The reason, as I see it, is simply that Island schools, even the secondary schools, focus (and are measured) almost exclusively, on academic attainment.

This may be fine for a proportion of our young people but many of those who will end up staying, and contributing, in Jersey are not academically inclined and would be far better pursuing a vocational path from an early age. These young people are not failures and should not be made to feel they are through a failing in the system.

We are a small Island with different economic and social requirements to the UK. We are, or ought to be, in the fortunate position of being able to invent our own futures rather than import UK standards, and this includes the way we educate young people locally.

While reviewing the apprenticeship process, employers have told me they are keen to employ young locals when they leave school, but at that point, many lack the emotional maturity and the core skills essential for starting out in employment.

Employers feel that they cannot wait the two years or so for these young people to acquire the confidence and the skills to become ‘useful’ to the business, so they turn to buying in the skills from outside the Island.

One solution lies in the way secondary school pupils are educated in the two years prior to leaving school. Secondary schools must focus on vocational skills, rather than solely academic skills, and be measured accordingly.

My understanding is that this is currently happening in the primary schools, via critical skills, but less so at secondary level, presumably because of teaching pressures for GCSE.

A greater emphasis on looking at the student objectively and, perhaps, profiling each 14 year old to identify the job ‘families’ that the individual is likely to gravitate towards, and tailor a core skills programme for that individual, might be a more appropriate course of action.

The outcome would be what we all seek – skilled young local people, no longer measured by their academic failings, leaving school with more confidence and a higher self-esteem. I suspect we would see a diminishment in the anxiety felt by students about their studies, as pointed out by Dr Bryn Williams and his team.

It would be a shame if we, as a small Island, could not come up with an imaginative solution to this problem ourselves, without recourse to imported UK ideology.

Quennevais Drive, Route Orange, St Brelade.

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