As many of you are aware I work at a College of Further Education in Oldham a town situated in the north of England. Now although the College is not seen as a bastion of academia by many in educational circles, to our community it has an invaluable role in developing young people not only in professional disciplines but also much needed life skills. All the things that there is no tick boxes for in your average Ofsted inspection.
Our College deals with students from all backgrounds and abilities and one thing is for sure if they come through our doors they will leave with a great deal of self belief and more importantly they will have qualifications and the confidence that brings to take the next step in life.
The north of England has the unenviable reputation of being way passed its sell by date, which is very sad. It was an area which for over a hundred years was the centre of the industrial revolution but unfortunately it is seen as an area in decline and as having little worth in the Southeast / Westminster vision of what 21st century Britain should be like.
The answer to this issue is very simple.
The only way to improve peoples lives is to give them the skills to make a living in jobs that will provide a steady income and allow them to provide for their families. Now that sounds easy but believe me that’s no easy task.
So what skills do we need to give these people.
When you ask educators they come up with the answer that they should follow a traditional academic route from GCSE’s through A Levels and on to University ending up with a profession that will pay well and have longevity.
Now this is all well and good but when you listen to what the government thinks it’s a completely different story.
They see it the role of employers to provide apprenticeships for young people so that they can learn on the job and keep the costs of educating people to a minimum. Thats ok in theory but you need companies who have the capacity to take on this responsibility and have people to act as role models for these trainees. In the North they are few and far between.
When you talk to employers they have yet another vision, they want people who can read and write, communicate well, show initiative, be punctual and above all be self motivated when it comes to career development. That is the true picture.
So this government has gone someway to try and address the acute skills shortage we have in this country by setting the standards in what the minimum qualifications should be for people completing secondary education.
Now this may come as a shock to people who know me but I agreed with Michael Gove who when Education Secretary made a decision that everyone should be able to read, write and be mathematically proficient to GCSE level when they leave education. Without these skills people cannot enter into a career that will enable them to provide for themselves let alone a family.
So the dilemma for our College is to get young people who haven’t had the best experience in secondary education to think differently about education. We have to show these young people that reading can be enjoyable and motivate them to start reading for pleasure. (Not an easy task when most don’t even read a newspaper).
The College has just embarked on a campaign to get these young people to start reading the classics and start discussing them with each other, its like a gigantic 2000 strong book club. By making reading a central focus in the curriculum we can achieve great things in the time these young people are with us.
We have inspirational quotes all over college and a great library but by far my favourite item on our campus is our Literary Staircase. As you can see from the picture above we have started with all the great classics that we the staff feel that they would benefit from reading. Great stories, fantastic characters and above all experiences that are memorable.
The only thing I can see wrong with our staircase is that it is our generations books that they see, what we need is books that are tomorrows classics, books they can champion to get on the steps.
But this campaign is working not only with students but with staff and even the wider community are getting involved. By using social media we are seeing people making lots of other suggestions and it’s creating a great vibe, even with the most uninspired people.
So people here is my request, please send me your recommendations for books that you think these young people will like and champion. The good thing is we have lots of steps in our college, we could finish up with hundreds of books that people will see every time they climb the stairs.
As my grandfather said to me, once you learn to read you can go on great adventures around the world without ever leaving your armchair. Its taken years for me to realise just how right he was.