School life, and education more generally, is never far from our minds at TESS. However, revisiting your own school days is an altogether different matter, which can not only take you back in time but also offer food for thought.
Last month, I attended the 50th anniversary celebrations of my former secondary school – a small-ish gymnasium in a rural German town. Among pupils, former pupils, teachers and former teachers of all ages and eras, memories quickly flooded back of uplifting lessons and school trips, as well as of failed Latin tests and traumatising PE lessons.
Wandering through the school corridors, I stumbled across a reminder of one of the most disappointing moments in my time there: “Careers advice”, the sign on the door read.
By and large, I enjoyed school. Like most of us, I quickly worked out which subjects suited me and did my best to avoid the others. I was also lucky enough to encounter some inspiring teachers – those who not only knew their subject matter and pedagogy intimately, but who also taught me about life and the sort of human being I should aspire to be.
But the careers guidance I received was far from inspiring. When I was a pupil, it consisted of a week of work experience, a visit to a local university and a time slot for a one-to-one meeting with an adviser from the local job centre. This poor person had only minutes to get to know me – and another 70 young people to see that same week.
Since then, things have changed dramatically for the better. Pupils at my old school now receive initial guidance three years into their secondary school career. Later on, in addition to the usual work experience and one-to-one advice, they get interview training and visits to and from outside partners such as universities and former students. The system has been so well received that it has been recognised nationally.
TESS has regularly reported on the concerns of teachers, careers staff and other education experts about the quality of careers advice in Scottish schools. This is a huge challenge: teachers cannot be expected to do it all, and Skills Development Scotland and its careers advisers are already using a variety of innovative ways to offer guidance despite increasing financial and time constraints.
The success of the system at my old school is largely down to the commitment of the people who run it. I know that similarly excellent practice exists in numerous Scottish schools, but I worry that most of those schemes also rely on the willingness of staff to go above and beyond.
This month, thousands of young Scots took their first steps into university, college or training. To ensure that as many of them as possible make the right choice, a well-funded, well-staffed guidance scheme is absolutely crucial. Excellent advice and true support can be life-changing, but mediocre careers advice is forgettable at best – and damaging at worst.