'Impartiality is like parity of esteem, an unhelpful mirage'

It is far better to train students to be discerning and then allow anyone to offer their advice on careers, writes Ian Pryce

Ian Pryce

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If I am asked to give guidance to young people, I tend to express very strong personal views.  If you are bright and do well at school, then do A levels at the college or school you like. If you can go to university, do so, and move away from home to get the broader experience.  If you are good at arts and sciences, study science but nourish your art in your spare time. Scientists can have a career in the arts (just look at many of our top comedians) but the reverse is almost impossible.

If you perform badly at school and didn’t like school rules, then you need to come to college full-time and learn to behave, you’re generally not mature enough to cope with an employer yet. Apprenticeships at 16 are for a very tiny minority who have a clear view what they want to do and are able to conform to the tough attitude and behaviour codes of an employer. Don’t specialise at 14.

I can give you evidence to support all these views but I also accept they are personal and I may have discounted evidence against them. I accept these might be prejudices and therefore my view should never be the only one a student receives.

Precluding other voices

There have been many positive changes recently in the area of guidance and careers education, especially the “Baker Clause” giving colleges and others access rights to schools and the investment in national careers services. I am very wary though that we are in danger of precluding other voices by chasing a notion of impartial, rather than independent, advice.

I see one of my jobs as an educator to equip students with the skills to look critically at information and determine what is best for them and navigate their way successfully through life. They are going to experience a lifetime of people with vested interests trying to sell them something so need to be prepared to cope with that.  If we achieve this a student can then be exposed to any amount of contradictory advice, the more the better. I love our sixth-form open days when one lecturer after another tells students their subject is the only one worth studying, far superior to any others.  It isn’t impartial but it conveys passion, and students benefit from exposure to that passion and it forces them to think.

Unhelpful mirage

If we simply replace advice from school teachers with government-sanctioned advice, we will not be helping young people as much as we could. Can you 100 per cent trust advice if it is funded by the government when that same government has a 3 million apprenticeships sales target? Impartiality is like parity of esteem, an unhelpful mirage. Chasing impartiality is likely to end up with some form of guidance orthodoxy. Even if we try to make all advice evidence-based I suspect all evidence will be open to different interpretations.

Far better to train students to be discerning and then allow anyone to offer their advice, even those with vested interests. We need our students to be exposed to so much information, advice and guidance that it makes their brains ache and forces them to consider all sorts of options.

If we can get our students agreeing with Pride and Prejudice's Elizabeth Bennet and feeling “I am excessively diverted” we will have done our job, allowing them to see through prejudice and being proud of their decisions.

Ian Pryce is chief executive of Bedford College

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Ian Pryce

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