Preparing pupils for the road ahead

Sue Freestone, Principal at King’s Ely, explains why school should be about awakening intellectual curiosity, not cementing life’s journey…

For many young people it can feel more and more as though every decision they make towards the end of their school careers will define the rest of their lives. In today’s competitive world, rightly or wrongly, the job of headteachers is predicated upon helping make sure students ‘get it right first time’.  It is a school’s responsibility to understand what makes young people tick, to guide them onto the track they want to follow and equip them with the knowledge and skills they need along the way. Many of our students know exactly what they want to do and have a very clear career trajectory in their minds as they head off to the next stage; yet, others really do not know. The ‘thing’ that fires their imagination or triggers a passion has yet to happen. People mature at different rates, both intellectually and emotionally. 

Many influences outside school bring a bearing on those choices; sometimes the cumulative effect does not actually come up with the right answer. It may be right for the moment but as each young adult evolves and matures, interests will change and they may wish they had done something else. It is not necessarily that they get it wrong, but circumstances change and life moves on. 

Often pressure comes from more from parental and societal expectation than any school’s involvement. We try very hard to fit the forward path with the interests, abilities and hopes of the pupil, but often the student claims ownership of an aspiration, when what it actually represents is a familial ambition that has fed into the subconscious over years of bedtime chats and family get-togethers. There’s nothing wrong in that, per se, but it takes huge strength of character to not be the medic, architect or composer everyone you know believes you were born to be, when all you really want to do is read mediaeval history. 

Yet, regardless of whether a young person knows what they want to do in life or not, we all know that so-called jobs for life no longer exist in our modern world. The few who do know what they want often reconsider their choice as they develop and grow. Obviously, exam results can be a student’s ticket to future success and they can often feel like the be-all and end-all. In reality, those qualifications may not even be a consideration for potential future employers. Many of the gear changes in a career pathway involve retraining; there are many more opportunities for people to decide they want to try something fresh that is exactly right for them. This means that it is hugely important to make adequate provision for those who want to return to education in later life and to ensure that students leave school with open minds. 

Sue Freestone

The whole point of being educated is that the spirit of inquiry and intellectual curiosity that is in all of us has been awakened. But that is not the end of the road; it is the opening of the gate to the next part of the journey. It is not a matter of finishing or getting there but of moving on to the next phase. We should perhaps take inspiration from former Big Issue seller Geoff Edwards who recently hit the headlines after winning a place to study English Literature at Cambridge University aged 52. Geoff, who despite many years living on the streets reportedly always had a ‘book on the go’, is a testimony to the power of keeping your mind alive. Life is a learning journey that continues to the very last step. 

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