We must prepare pupils for the big, wide world

20th November 2015 at 00:00

One of the most depressing pieces of news that teachers receive at this time of year is that some of the pupils we cheered off to university have dropped out of their courses. These days it seems to happen more often than ever.

It is a giant step, moving from a highly supportive school environment to the more challenging surroundings of university. Everything is new and, for some undergraduates, it’s not easy to cope.

University counsellors say they are dealing with increasing numbers of students seeking help for anxiety and depression, caused by not being able to deal with their new surroundings.

At the same time, employers complain that too many school-leavers lack basic workplace and relational skills, as well as knowledge of how the real world functions.

Take the three boys sent out on a week’s work experience from a high school serving one of our leafier areas: the inexperienced 15-year-olds spent a frustrating hour watching buses whizz past, before realising that you actually have to signal to the bus to stop.

Work experience provides numerous other examples of this sort of social inexperience. Too many pupils are sent home from work placements after refusing to sweep floors or make coffee even when these duties are part of the job remit, and there are girls unable to rough it on their Duke of Edinburgh’s Award camping expedition without the comfort of their hair straighteners.

The accusation is that schools, modern parenting and, of course, the internet are creating an unworldly group of no-copers who struggle to deal with life after school.

Schools, it is suggested, spend too much time preparing pupils for exams rather than for life. A “prizes for all” culture, we’re told, makes young people less resilient to the frustrations and setbacks of the real world.

The internet, meanwhile, is allegedly pushing a diet of trivial trends and gossip, consumed at the expense of more important news stories that would help young readers make sense of the world.

And then there is “helicopter parenting”: excessive hovering, fussing and coddling, making it more difficult for many young people to stand on their own two feet.

There may be an element of truth in all this but the problem is not altogether new.

I remember reading how Miss Jean Brodie, back in the 1930s, took her highly privileged pupils on a tour of some of Edinburgh’s less-distinguished quarters to help prepare them for the realities of life outside school.

Our risk-averse nature may prevent us from following Miss Brodie’s example but we could start the school day with a news feed of important stories.

More lessons and assemblies incorporating life skills, self-help and outside perspectives would also make a difference.

We have to try something – too many young people fall at the very first hurdle that confronts them after school.

John Greenlees is a secondary teacher in Scotland

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