Parents, not schools, ‘pressurise pupils to go to university’

Teachers rejects idea that schools focus on university above all other post-school paths

Henry Hepburn

Fewer disadvantaged students are going on to university, new figures show

Parents are more to blame than schools for pressurising pupils to go to university, a Scottish teachers’ organisation has said.

The Scottish Guidance Association's claims come in response to survey findings that many pupils who did not plan to go to university felt sidelined by schools.

The survey of nearly 900 young people was produced for a parliamentary report in May.

The association, which represents guidance teachers who deal with pastoral matters, has now stated: “We were very surprised by the suggestion that schools are putting undue pressure on pupils to apply for university."

The response comes in a submission to the Scottish Parliament’s Education and Skills Committee.

It adds: “All the teachers at our [June] meeting agreed that they take an individualised approach, as do all their colleagues, and a sustained positive destination that suits the pupil is what is sought.

"By contrast, there has often been a concern regarding pressure from parents, for pupils to go to university.”

The association believes that the pupils' perceptions may be skewed by the experience of the sixth, final year of secondary school, when “there is a high proportion of pupils who intend to apply to university…and a very specific process, with clear deadlines, and so it would be understandable that pupils feel the emphasis is disproportionate”.

The association states: “A number of [sixth-year] pupils also apply to college, but as the application process is not so rigorous, and does not involve the teacher so directly, then this is not highlighted to the same extent.”

It adds: “It would be difficult to promote applications for jobs and apprenticeships in the same structured way, as there is not one body managing the situation, and jobs become available throughout the year.”

However, Connect – formerly the Scottish Parent Teacher Council – argues that, with “few exceptions”, schools have not embraced ways of broadening the curriculum, and instead continue to focus on university and the qualifications needed to get there as “the target next step”.

The “firm focus” on university is “unacceptable” and “leaves many young people feeling disengaged and disinterested in school and learning”, Connect wrote in its submission to the inquiry.

The submission said that too few schools have pursued an approach which “embraces school, college, training and volunteering in a holistic way, thus meeting the needs and aspirations of the widest possible range of youngsters”.

In particular, for pupils with additional support needs and who leave school at the first opportunity, Connect said “the system is self-evidently failing to deliver”.

Its submission added: “Parents report inadequate transition planning, few or limited choices beyond the well-trodden path to supported college courses which offer no prospect of employment in the future, and a feeling of being left to their own devices after school.

“We know the unemployment rates for young adults with disabilities is shockingly high, leaving them dependent on the state, living on low incomes and with their skills squandered.”

The next meeting of the Scottish Parliament’s Education and Skills Committee is on Wednesday, when it will question Sir Ian Wood, whose 2014 Education Working for All report called on schools to improve their offerings beyond traditional academic routes as part of what became the ambitious seven-year Developing the Young Workforce programme.

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Henry Hepburn

Henry Hepburn

Henry Hepburn is the news editor for Tes Scotland

Find me on Twitter @Henry_Hepburn

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