Over the last few months, Ofsted inspectors have started to comment on the quality of careers advice and to use their observations to inform the final categorisation. The same thinking was picked up by the Sub-Committee on Education, Skills and the Economy this week. It has suggested formally reaching for the big stick, recommending that Ofsted should play a ‘bigger role’ in ensuring high quality careers guidance, including downgrading schools where it is not in evidence. The view is that the poor quality of careers advice is fuelling the country’s skills shortage.
Many of the report’s observations are valid – only 15% of apprentices find out about the opportunity through teachers or careers advisers. Too many past initiatives have made the system of advice complex and unwieldy. But even if those issues are fixed, it’s the underpinning philosophy which is fundamentally flawed. Nicky Morgan is keen to end the ‘outdated snobbery’ that surrounds apprenticeships and vocational training, yet the government continues to perpetuate the social attitudes from which that hierarchy of values stems. It is squinting through the wrong end of the telescope.
This government, perhaps more than any previous one, has taken the growth of the economy to the point of obsession. Nick Gibb is on record as saying that the purpose of education is to fuel the economy. Nicky Morgan plans to use tax data to create a database of earnings potential so that students can choose subjects to maximise their income. Living in a country which has one of the world’s strongest economies has its price and that includes the creation of a society which values people for what they possess and what they earn, not for who they are. Little wonder that the ‘outdated snobbery’ that Nicky Morgan eschews continues to create social hierarchies founded on money. The government is attempting to use education in general (and in this case, careers advice in particular) to treat the symptoms, rather than tackle the cause.
The economy is treated with reverential respect, as though it’s some kind of autonomous Minotaur that requires constant feeding in order to avert its wrath, rather than something which is of our own creating. That deity status is nowhere better exemplified than the post-Brexit hysteria and scapegoating which centred almost solely on our economic future. As Justin Welby wrote in On Rock or Sand? Firm Foundations for Britain’s future ‘We believe that if we can fix the economy, the fixing of human beings will automatically follow … It is a lie …that casts money, rather than humanity, as the protagonist of God’s story’.
And that is the key – seeing humanity as the protagonist of God’s story. When we start looking through the telescope from the right end, we stop valuing people for their perceived social status, and we start to value them for their humanity. Any government that strives for equality through education misses the point that the only foundation for equality lies in our equal worth as human beings: ‘The rich and the poor shake hands as equals – God made them both! (Proverbs 22:2 The Message).
So while each student whom we teach, and each child whom we parent, will go on to achieve different things in life, they are all created equal by God – a truth which the Founding Fathers held as self-evident. And that impacts on our view of careers advice, because we are encouraging our students to be the very best people they can be, each with unique God-given gifts and abilities that can make a valid contribution to the common good.
The prophet Samuel went to the home of Jesse to anoint one of his sons as successor to King Saul. Samuel quite naturally thought that the eldest son, Eliab, would be the chosen one. He was tall and strong, and already a serving soldier. But Eliab wasn’t God’s choice, for all his kingly appearance. God said: ‘Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart’ (1 Samuel 16:7 NIV).
How different might our society be if we valued people for their hearts, rather than their appearance?