Progression for Progression Sake

John Watters, Executive Officer – AusSIP

It is quite rare these days for any child to repeat a year of school. Despite what recommendations are made by multiple professionals or where the student is progressing in relation to achieving state and national standards, rarely does a child ‘stay behind’.

What intrigues me from a personal and taxpaying point of view, are the same objections appear to erode once the young person has finished school. Taking a ‘gap year’, changing degrees or apprenticeships midstream without any cross credit transfer, is generally accepted. In doing so, the three year degree becomes four or five; the apprenticeship can extend beyond six years and the youth unemployment rate grows.

While there are a variety of valid reasons for changing study patterns post-school, why were these not addressed before school was completed? Would it have been better to have repeated a year of school or undertake an extended HSC pathway? The end result in terms of timing appears to be the same, or perhaps worse.

We appear to have a culture that frowns upon children not moving to the next year level despite of multiple warning signs. Progression appears to be more aligned to age and social grouping rather than actual performance. When the same young people leave school and are confronted with educational and employer expectations that do not accept progression, the wheels fall off.

No student should leave school without a sound career pathway plan. No employer should be left waiting for a young person to become work ready.

Career pathway plans begin early and everyone has a role to play. The following examples are just a few to illustrate strategies we can all undertake.

When schools are closed for teacher professional development days, children should go to work with their parents or relatives. The mere process of getting up earlier and dressing differently as well as traveling a different way to go to work, has a significant impact on children. Your everyday tasks are new and generally exciting for children. From the office coffee machine to where you have lunch, your colleagues, how your workspace is organised (including family photos) and your daily tasks, enrich and demystify work. I can honestly say, I believe that more than two-thirds of young people do not fully understand what their parents or relatives do as part of their job.

Young people often see their parents or relatives as end-processes rather than an accumulation of events and challenges. Talking with your children about your past jobs or experiences whilst driving is an excellent way to communicate in a non-threatening manner. What’s even better, is that you often don’t need a prepared plan to do so. Driving past a business or site you once worked at, seeing a business name or educational facility is an easy mental prompt to a discussion. For boys in particular, this ‘shoulder to shoulder’ conversation is far better than a face to face. Furthermore, illustrating a location with a story provides a career anchor for the young person. Every time you drive past, the child will recall the conversation.

Becoming familiar with the school’s career adviser is often left too late. Perhaps the most underutilised and undervalued resource in every school, careers information is critical. Too often approaches to schools are made when students are in Year 10 or even worse, Year 12. The subjects that students study in Year 12 strongly correlate to their Year 9 subjects that were chosen when the students were in Year 8! Popular cooking shows often leave out one aspect that young people overlook when choosing hospitality – you have to clean up after yourself.

Undertake more and more work experience. Too often work experience is considered an option for Year 10 students and too often frequently a pathway set aside only for trade-orientated students. Every student should undertake at least one work experience in Year 10 and before they choose senior subjects. Waiting to ‘fill in some time’ at the end of Year 10 is too late. Subject selection periods are usually in the first half of the year. Work experience and consultation with UAC and higher educational guides should be planned early in Year 10. Choosing a study pathway without sound knowledge is illogical.

It is not the sole responsibility of the school to formulate this plan. It is an ongoing process and collaboration that requires everyone’s input. No young person should ever be left in the position whereby they complete school and suddenly they have to figure out what should have and could have been addressed years earlier. No business should be left waiting for young people to catch up. Australia has a transitioning economy that is subject to international market forces that require smooth and rapid transitions.

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