After the grades
Too few young Londoners receive any decent careers advice while at secondary school and too many are now out of work, with almost a fifth of 16-24 year olds now not in employment, education or training. In contrast, business schools put huge and very expert resources into careers advice and support. The main reason? Post-qualification outcome tracking. This could be part of the answer for how to re-order secondary education to better meet the needs of young Londoners, especially those not heading to university.
Every year I get a phone call from a senior leader of the business school I attended. It is not a social call but rather part of a critical business activity for all business schools – they are prompting me to complete a survey of MBA graduates. This matters to my alma mater because, for business schools, the league tables that are generated by these surveys are perhaps the most crucial tool used by potential students to select a business school. The key questions in the surveys are whether you are in work, and what your salary is, though you also get to rate the course as a whole and different departments. Students are keen to participate because raising the ranking of your school is an important part of boosting its brand, and hence your own CV. At no point does anyone enquire what grades I got.
The contrast with the performance incentives currently in place for secondary schools could not be more stark. Here grades are everything. Headteachers and their staff are judged, above all other factors, by the scores their students are awarded for GSCEs. Yes, much tweaking has taken place but the fact remains that we judge our schools almost entirely on their exam results. So should we be appalled at the poor careers advice and weak vocational training? – yes. Should we be surprised? I think not.
While replicating the business school model is clearly impossible for schools as a whole, we should be thinking about two things. First, we should find new approaches that systematically allow us to track pupil progress beyond school. The touted, but not yet completed, release of Student Loans Company income data will help. But more important will be the means to track progress of those who do not go to higher education. Measuring employment and income of alumni should not be beyond the ken of the modern state, including one that respects our privacy. Second, schools should start looking on their own, or in partnerships, for small scale methods to track alumni progress and start to sell their own successes.