Northern Ireland news

Schools' focusing on coaching for exams at the expense of employable skills

Schools' focus on coaching pupils for exams is coming at the expense of developing employable skills. Picture by Gareth Fuller/PA Wire

SCHOOLS' focus on coaching pupils for exams is coming at the expense of developing employable skills, according to young people, parents and teachers.

New research, `Transforming the 14-19 education and skills system', suggests Northern Ireland's schools need to modernise their curriculums and careers advice to equip their pupils for work.

Think tank Pivotal found only 25 per cent of children and 29 per cent of parents feel that young people are learning the skills they need to succeed in their working lives.

Its data, published today, showed fewer than a third of young people in the north feel schools help them develop problem solving, communication, leadership and critical thinking.

Every Northern Ireland post-primary school was approached, with more than 250 responses from young people and focus groups as well as views from more than 120 parents, teachers, employers and youth workers.

It found young people want skills development "woven into the curriculums of different subjects" and believe classroom time is "too focused" on coaching for exams rather than "the broader education and development of children... (and) skills that will help employability".

They want more opportunities to learn about apprenticeships, and an increased discussion about alternative pathways - such as further education (FE) and apprenticeships - while in school

Only 30 per cent of careers teachers feel they have enough time in their role to research and provide guidance about changing labour market trends.

Meanwhile, vocational qualifications and FE colleges are still sometimes seen as "second-class options... particularly by parents" with an "A-Level fixation".

"There always seems to be an adverse reaction from parents to anything that’s not A-Level related," one careers teachers said.

Teachers said schools should have visits from FE representatives to discuss alternative options and parents should be able to visit colleges, with high-end academic and vocational qualifications allowed to be pursued at the same level

Fifty-five per cent of young people believe "work-based learning experiences were the most helpful in shaping their future choices".

Concerns raised by young people are echoed by parents, teachers, youth practitioners and employers.

Agreed solutions included more integration between employers and all levels of the education system, as well as "more ambitious and modernised careers support".

Employers want "increased involvement in schools or with community outreach, to engage young people with different industry sectors".

Youth practitioners said young people in care "are often overlooked" during discussions and strategising about education, skills and employability.

They suggest improved teacher training about the complex needs faced by some young people, including SEN, mental health difficulties and challenging behaviour and targeted opportunities for young people in marginalised communities to engage with businesses.

The data is released as the Executive is drawing up plans for a new strategy for education and skills for young people aged 14-19 years old.

Director of Pivotal Ann Watt said: "Schools should not just be about coaching children to pass exams, but about the broader development of young people."

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