Why work is top of the new agenda

14th November 1997 at 00:00
Neil Munro reports on the latest Scottish Office thinking behind moves to bolster school-employer links.

Education-industry liaison is too often "a series of separate initiatives" rather than central to the curriculum, the senior chief inspector of schools warned last week. Douglas Osler called for an "awareness that much of the curriculum content and skills imparted to children from the earliest years of education are the beginning of education for work, will focus education, make its purpose clear and benefit education, economy and society".

In his speech to a conference at South Queensferry organised by the Inspectorate and the Association of Directors of Education in Scotland, Mr Osler sought to lay old ghosts about distinctions between education for its own sake and for work. In a remarkably passionate defence of his stance, he said: "Children do not choose the moment of their birth or the moment at which they enter the education system. We have no right to trade ideologies while they are caught in the crossfire."

Mr Osler said there was no future in trying to separate preparation for life from preparation for work. "For the individual these are too intertwined to be meaningfully separated. Even for those without work or without the immediate prospect of work, they must have flexible skills to be able to work.

"Education must integrate with social and economic change more actively. The individual's needs are the same as those of society and the economy." The implications were clear: maximum attainment for all, purposeful school ethos, powerful messages about social and moral values.

"This is no longer an option," Mr Osler said. "It is a necessity for our country."

He tried to reassure critics by balancing his drive for action with an insistence that he was not promoting a radical new approach. "What we now need to do is consider current provision and identify those aspects which must be given particular importance in the curriculum if we are genuinely to prepare young people for work and provide maximum value to our economy and society. "

Mr Osler said: "All our activities in this regard do not need to be explicitly work related. Preparation for work takes many forms. Not all are by any manner of means evidently vocational."

His remarks reinforced the growing importance being attached to core skills, which the Inspectorate wants to spread beyond their genesis in the Higher Still programme to permeate the whole curriculum. It is clear that the early intervention strategy, focusing on the most basic core skills of literacy, communication and numeracy, is now to be seen as the essential precursor of education for work.

But Mr Osler has previously made clear, notably in his St Andrew's Day lecture last year, that the other core skills - information technology, personal effectiveness and problem-solving - cannot be ignored and should be introduced as early as possible at the primary stages.

"Progress with them is preparation for work," Mr Osler said. "It is important to bring together these implicit areas of preparation with the explicit measures such as work experience and young enterprise more centrally in the curriculum to represent a visible purpose to educate for work."

HMI lays stress on core skills partly for their own sake. But they also reflect the increasing importance of another engine driving the work-related agenda: pupil alienation from the existing curriculum. This was moved up a gear by both Mr Osler and the Education Minister in his speech to the conference.

Mr Osler appeared almost to sympathise, saying young people are disaffected from the present style of education and "question, often with cause, the relevance of what they are asked to learn for the world they see. We cannot afford to take a stand on what we now offer and expect conformity. That was always comfortable but it is no longer to be expected.

"Recent educational changes have recognised the need for new attitudes to children at home and in school, have released their self-confidence, the need to earn respect, their application of skills. Yet we still have a fairly structured system from which some become disaffected. Young people are often disaffected from school rather than from learning."

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