Should teachers dissuade bright pupils from becoming hairdressers?

Should teachers dissuade bright pupils from becoming hairdressers?

The Guardian World News

Hairdresser at work cutting customers hair

Students told inspectors they were not given good advice when considering apprenticeships in hair salons. Photograph: Mark Fairey/Alamy

Should teachers dissuade their brightest pupils from becoming hairdressers? According to Ofsted, teachers sometimes“deride” pupils for opting to leave school and work as apprentices in beauty salons or hairdressers.

Inspectors questioned 105 young people for a report on apprenticeships published on Wednesday. They found “several examples of bright young people who felt they had been derided by their teachers for wanting to progress to work-based learning, particularly in care or hairdressing, rather than stay on at school”.

One very skilled hairdressing apprentice told inspectors that upon excitedly telling her headteacher that she had received an offer of an apprenticeship with a top hairstylist, the head said to her: “Why on earth do you want to waste your time doing that?”

Right or wrong, is it any surprise that this is happening? From 2014, the government will measure schools according to the proportion of their pupils who go to university. Brian Lightman, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, says the coalition government has already put teachers under “very great pressure to focus on academic, rather than vocational, subjects”.

On the other hand, the Education Act 2011, which came into force in November, places schools under a duty to give impartial careers advice to pupils. This advice must include information on all post-16 education and training options, including apprenticeships.

This doesn’t appear to be happening in several schools, according to Ofsted’s report. Many of the young people the inspectors talked to said the advice they had received on apprenticeships was “unsatisfactory”. Unsurprisingly, perhaps, teachers were apparently happier to give help on options that involved further study in school or college.

Schools also came in for criticism over work experience placements, which are particularly important for teenagers considering an apprenticeship. They help students decide whether they enjoy a line of work and enable employers to see whether those on work experience have the potential to be hired as apprentices in future years.

Schools cram work experience into one or two weeks at the end of the academic year, the inspectors complained. This short time period meant employers were limited in how many placements they offered. Schools should “improve the local co-ordination of work experience so that willing employers can respond to more requests for such experience across a wider timeframe,” the inspectors said.

But there is a good reason why they can’t do this: they’d be unable to accommodate GCSE exams if they did. Sometimes, it seems, schools just can’t win.

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