Young People as Agents of Change in Career Education

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Introduction to Facework

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Tweets@facework

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The following articles about Facework and what we have learnt in developing this project have been published in Huffington Post, and magazines and are reproduced here.

Giving Young People a Clear Line of Sight to Work

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Introduction to Facework

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Social entrepreneur Stephen Carrick-Davies is a man who wears many hats. These include working within the non-profit sector as a freelance consultant and trainer, helping to run a successful community café – Hill Station – in South-East London, as well as being interim chief executive of the Inclusion Trust, a trust that focuses on young people who have been excluded – ‘pushed out’ – of mainstream education.

It was actually through his involvement in Hill Station when he realised there was a huge disconnect between school and work. When he was in the café, many young people would literally beg him for a job. “I would ask these people what they wanted to do and they would reply: ‘anything’,” he told Recruiter.

Through Hill Station, Carrick-Davies and business partners tried to give employment to as many as possible. For many, it was their first job; for others, the experience launched careers in the hospitality industry or helped them into further education. So he thought it was time to really consider the root cause, to help people leaving school with few qualifications better prepare for the world of work.

“I realised that many people who come out of school haven’t been given confidence and empowerment to problem solve, yet those are among the things employers want,” Carrick-Davies says.

Thus the Facework project was born. With backing from social tech investor Nominet Trust, employability education charity Worktree and the Inclusion Trust, for over two years Carrick-Davies ran intense sessions in five pupil referral units (PRUs) across the UK and co-designed a model to help excluded young people face work. The focus was on just five core STEPS to work (see Facework STEPS, below) – the ‘soft skills’ and attitudes which employers say they want from staff.

“If it’s true that employers recruit for qualities and train for skill, then helping those young people who, for various complex reasons have been told they don’t matter or who feel rubbish, has to be a priority, because everyone has enormous potential,” Carrick-Davies explains.

Launched late last year, Facework specifically targets marginalised young people – who the Facework team label ‘pushed out’, putting the onus on the education system rather than the individual. Others, who had first-hand experience of feeling pushed out of employment, accompanied Carrick-Davies around the PRUs to offer their input into the scheme. Jack Burt was one of those, who heard about the Facework plan after spending four demoralising years trapped in a cycle of unhelpful government-run employability courses.

He says those courses only taught the basics, such as how to prepare a CV, which were clearly not working as “the results stay the same [no work] and it’s so degrading… And if there’s one thing I felt the entire way, it was that I wasn’t worth it, I wasn’t worth being recruited for anything… and I don’t want anyone else to feel that way,” Burt says.

What became clear in talking to pupils and teachers at the PRUs, which provide education for those unable to attend mainstream school, was that understanding soft skills was especially important for these people most at risk of becoming NEET [not in education, employment or training].

The education system, Carrick-Davies says, measures people by their ability to sit an exam while failing to recognise the skills many young people acquire through growing up in challenging situations – protecting themselves from harm, becoming resilient and even caring for family members, can be transferred into work situations.

Although online resources give young people information about jobs, not many sites or resources help people understand what they can bring to an employer. The STEPS mnemonic and skills categorisation helps “demystify the rhetoric and theory about employment”, Carrick-Davies says.

Set up as an education resource for teachers working with students aged 14+, Facework uses platforms young people understand – videos, social media, as well as songs, cartoons, specific apps, posters and more. ‘Facework Challenges’ on its website help young people understand skills, challenges, solutions and how to apply them to the world of work.

Other Facework resources help people ‘flip their thinking’ – challenging long held ideas, attitudes or behaviours such as ‘I can’t get a job because I’m not confident with people’.
Not only does Facework help young people understand what is needed for employment success, it asks them to help pass that on through creating their own videos to share with others seeking Facework’s help. This helps firm up their own learning and development, while passing on valuable information.

Carrick-Davies says teachers instinctively know that if they can help shape pupils’ attitudes and behaviours for the adult world, and prepare them for the likes of handling rejection, they can significantly improve those pupils’ future prospects and even their social mobility.

Although the focus groups were run initially with PRU pupils, the Facework material is for everyone, Carrick-Davies says. “I wanted to tackle one of the hardest issues, the people that don’t have any qualifications and haven’t done really well in school.”

Despite having been launched for a few months, during the creation process about 60 PRU pupils, all of whom had input into the material, were helped in varying ways.

Now it is online, the number of people it is helping is unquantifiable, he explains. But with the backing of global accreditation body OCR (Oxford, Cambridge RSA), it will be easier for teachers to cross-reference the Facework curriculum to their OCR employability qualifications. He stresses it is not an ‘off-the-shelf’ product and merely provides the tools from which teachers can develop lessons.

Facework STEPS

S – Self-management: managing time, following instructions and controlling frustrations

T – Team working: respecting others and agreeing to team goals

E – Enterprising: customer service and using initiative

P – Problem-solving: spotting, sharing and solving a problem

S – Speaking and listening: being confident to share self-interests, understanding body language and making yourself be heardShine bright like a diamond - Facework Recruiter magazine article

The art of managing what you can’t measure

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Introduction to Facework

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It’s good to be right about being wrong! – The Facework journey of learning.

Maggie Kalnins and Stephen Carrick-Davies reflect on what we learnt in developing Facework.

The Alternative shouldn’t be Inferior

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Introduction to Facework

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THE INEQUALITY OF CAREERS EDUCATION

Maggie Kalnins, CEO of Inclusion Trust, and Stephen Carrick-Davies ask why is it that those who need most help are missing out on good quality careers education.

How do you make a topic interesting enough to galvanise peoples’ attention and motivate them to act and bring about change? Murray Davis, a sociologist writing back in 1971, argued that for something to register high on the Geiger-counter of ‘interestingness’, it had to:

  • Show that taken-for-granted assumptions can be challenged;
  • Show that what the reader feels personally is actually something that most people feel; and
  • Show that seemingly disparate things are actually part of the same thing.

Now that’s ‘interesting’, but does challenging assumptions and igniting passions inspire innovation and drive change to address an inequality?

Most analysts use the label NEET to describe the scandal that nearly one million under 24 year olds are currently Not in Education, Employment or Training. But in a world where the public’s attention and news disappears quicker than a Snap Chat message, it’s challenging to make the hard facts of modern life more than just interesting. Of course, commentators find it “interesting” that despite unemployment levels falling, the unemployment rate of this group remains largely unaffected. But why, despite the investment of billions in education, brilliant teachers, and grants that support business engagement, does a significant minority of young people still find themselves pushed-out of the classroom and confined to what some commentators call an under-class’, but what we call ‘Pushed–Out Learners.

Now before you text the person who forwarded this article a “TL:DR” (too long, didn’t read), let’s test Davis’s theory and challenge some general assumptions, ask whether we all feel something is wrong and, despite there being seemingly disparate challenges, try to identify principles that start to make real change for this group.

PUSHED-OUT LEARNERS ARE TROUBLE BECAUSE THEY CAN’T LEARN

These young people are not trouble, but are often troubled, and when we as a society exhibit signs of a collective empathy-fatigue it is we who are in trouble. Many of those with whom we work are very fast learners. Thousands of children grow up mastering impressive skills and gaining the courage to cope without supportive adults in their lives. They acquire skills in managing to stay safe and protect themselves from harm, resilience when things go wrong yet again, patience in being a young carer, etc. The obsession of what counts as progress in schools, coupled with what is measured by exams and the league tables omits to recognise many passions, gifts and talents, and leaves these young people labelled as failures.

Despite gestures of empowerment and participation, many pushed-outs become so hard-wired to the negative battery terminal of life they struggle to see the positive, or accept praise for the skills, achievements and qualities they do have. Others often lack the trust and self-confidence to feel positive and accept praise for talents they do possess. They develop sophisticated ways to protect themselves from further failure.

ARE YOU THINKING WHAT WE’RE THINKING?

It’s vital we find more creative ways to validate the passions, skills and capabilities that pushed-out learners already possess The Badge the UK initiative is certainly on the right track and we need both formal and informal ways of accrediting relational and emotional intelligence and the ability to communicate to different audiences.

THE FUNCTION OF SCHOOLS IS TO OFFER A BROAD EDUCATION, PREPARING STUDENTS FOR EXAMINATIONS, UNIVERSITY AND PROFESSIONAL CAREERS

But teachers are also driven by a wider moral purpose to create informed, confident and well-rounded adults who can be leaders and team players. These young people can empathise with others, be resilient and able to face challenges, and remain at ease with themselves. Great teachers inspire learners to have intellectual curiosity and a strong moral sense. So, why then do some teenagers repel these opportunities and find themselves pushed-out?

ARE YOU THINKING WHAT WE’RE THINKING?

School works for around almost 60% of students (who get 5 A*-C grades). But how much better if we valued learning on mastering crafts and trades. The Livery Companies built up a culture of esteeming training in the practice and theory of crafts and trades; they promoted innovation, specialist knowledge, functional skills and teamwork. Why have we lost this?

WE KNOW WHAT TEENAGERS NEED, BECAUSE WE WERE YOUNG ONCE

The world for young people today is very different from the one we experienced. If you step inside the skin of a young pushed-out teenager and view today’s world through their eyes, what would you see and how would it make you feel? These young people are about to be thrust out, or have already been ‘pushed-out’ of the safe world of school, their peer group, or their families and into the wider competitive world of work (or unemployment), austerity, and uncertainty. These teenagers are as capable as the rest of us of seeing what is wrong with the world today, yet we seem unable to capture their spirit and passion, nor do we seem able to motivate them to think about how they could make a better future for themselves.

ARE YOU THINKING WHAT WE’RE THINKING?

Encouraging young people themselves to develop and co-author new careers education programmes is crucial if we are to reboot aspirations and stimulate innovation. We also need to develop trained super coaches to broker engagement between pushed-out learners and dedicated employers. The Think Forward initiative that develops this is certainly having a great impact. Finally, although there are some great new websites and online tools very few of them have been designed with pushed-out learners in mind.

THE MASSIVE COMMERCIAL INVESTMENT MUST BE MAKING IT MORE EFFECTIVE

Governments and commercial players are investing billions into education to make existing schools systems and learning models more effective and efficient. The emphasis appears to focus particularly on developing academic pedagogies that will raise standards. However, if you just add technology into the mix, does this really make the development innovative? How much is the iPad transforming learning for the pushed-out learners? How do they get a chance to even use one if they are not in the classroom?

When technological investment is added into the mix, there seems to be an assumption that this will automatically make the development innovative and, therefore, education will improve? Is the technology investment simply changing the Banda worksheet into a digital format, and creating a more efficient model to deliver even more content even faster? How more engaging will this be than traditional school methods that use a purely academic pedagogy?

ARE YOU THINKING WHAT WE’RE THINKING?

Schools are great places for socialisation and collaboration. They also serve as a main conduit for pastoral support and other intervention services, including careers education and advice. But, what access do pushed-out learners have to these entitlements.

Who is really prepared to invest in the ‘pushed-out’ learners who present the greatest challenge? Who will engage and invest in creating a bespoke careers education and vocational pedagogy, that also harnesses digital technology to re-imagine how this learning could best happen?

The Social Impact Bonds offers promise in providing investment for the significant minority of pushed-out learners. It is already funding Think Forward, and we hope that this will motivate charities and social enterprises to develop and bring their successful methods and ideas together.

THE NEW DRIVE TO IMPROVE CAREERS EDUCATION WITHIN SCHOOLS AND NEW ONLINE TOOLS WILL MAKE A REAL DIFFERENCE

Yes, but how will this improve careers education for those outside of schools? It is surprising to see that the recently published DfE report,Careers guidance provision for young people in schools’, offers very little practical advice for helping the pushed-out learners. Are they really simply saying link the ‘pushed-out’ students back into schools? Enticing pushed-out learners back into schools might work if a different pedagogical approach was used – one that engages them in the first place.

Furthermore, Ofsted’s report, ‘Pupils missing out on education’, provides a stark reminder that many thousands of young people in England do not attend full-time education and many have become invisible to the local authority. How will the improvements to careers education inside schools reach those learners who remain on the outside?

We want to challenge you to particularly consider what proportion of these resources are targeted at developing models of learning for careers education. Why is there still so little emphasis on vocational pedagogies in relevant and purposeful settings? By this we don’t mean the type of activities that aim to domesticate resistant youth under banners such as ‘empowerment’ or ‘civic participation’. We are talking about a careers education that will also capture the richness of human behaviours and capabilities, and allow all learners to flourish, particularly pushed-out learners, who face the biggest barriers not least of which are poor functional, social and emotional skills.

ARE YOU THINKING WHAT WE’RE THINKING?

If we apply our collective insight about pushed-out learners, combine this with new strategies that are co-designed with these learners and harness technology to enable new possibilities for the pushed-out leaners this will make a difference – it will have both social and economic value in helping them also build the career they want. High Tech High has applied school-to-work strategies to generate new ways of teaching and learning within their schools. Big Picture Schools have also transformed education – ‘one student at a time’. Both are great examples of preventing the pushed-out effect on learners.

We are convinced that interactive web technology can make a real difference to connect ‘pushed-out’ learners, but not if it’s simply digitising the content from inside schools for speedy delivery to these young people.

FACEWORK

The Facework project, developed by Inclusion Trust, seeks to create a radical new approach to careers education especially for organisations working with pushed-out learners. We are starting not with the technology but with finding the right pedagogical approach for these learners. We’ve undertaken a comprehensive literature review, completed surveys with staff from PRUs, run focus groups with students. With funding from Nominet Trust, we are now working with these young people and staff in co-authoring new digital careers learning resources. We believe the answer lies in addressing the following:

  • If pushed-out learners have an insight and understanding of how skills relate to the actual work place, they will be motivated to engage and take responsibility for learning new skills.
  • If pushed-out learners are involved in co-designing Work Related Learning activities, the online community, and digital CVs, they will learn and develop new skills. Students will be able to create Digital CVs through which they will be better equipped to demonstrate their skills and talents to employers.
  • If pushed-out learners have access to an online network of peers, adults and resources, who can work with them at their pace they will have more successful transitions from school-to-work.

The findings and observations emerging during the development of our Facework project, has provided a significant insight into pushed-out young peoples’ relationships with learning and with employment.

When we talk to ‘pushed-out’ young people, they tell us that when they are immersed in an environment which has a purpose and relevance to their passions, gifts and talents, their lives are transformed. Many of you will tell a story about a young person who thrived when they finally ‘found their element’ as Sir Ken Robinson explains so well.

If work is a rite of passage to citizenship, then surely we should allow employers, who provide that passage, to take more responsibility in shaping the necessary learning. Employers know that it’s best to recruit for attitude and train for skills, but now they have an opportunity to help reboot young people’s attitudes towards work. The skills and attitudes which employers want are not the ones schools can provide in a relevant context; indeed, surveys show that the skills employers want can be broadly broken down into five key attitudes and skills which we have labelled STEPS.

  • S – Self-management and accepting responsibility.

  • T – Team-working and able to take initiative.

  • E – Enterprise and customer awareness.

  • P – Problem-solving and ability to be resilient and work under pressure.

  • S – Speaking and listening and good communication skills including ICT.

 

The RSA think piece Rebalancing the UK’s Education and Skills System by Louise Bamfield offers ‘A whole system framework for skills, knowledge and capabilities’ as a way of capturing a broad range of skills, knowledge and personal qualities that are vital for life and work in the 21st Century. This offers interesting food for thought: Functional and basic skills: including language comprehension & communication, numeracy & digital literacy. Specialist or advanced knowledge (knowing how and knowing that): encompassing practical, technical, craft-based and theoretical/conceptual. Craftmanship or Professionalism: a set of attitudes and dispositions towards ones work, especially the sense of pride in a job well done; the capacity to exercise informed, expert judgement drawing on a wealth of relevant experience. Relational and emotional intelligence: relating to and empathising with other people; knowing how to present and communicate to different audiences. Business and enterprise skills: understanding the economic and social sides of work, eg being able to spot and take advantage of market opportunities; managing time and resources effectively etc. Innovative and collaborative capacity: being inspired to collaborate and innovate, enquire and investigate, adapt and respond to changing circumstances.

We are seeking like-minded charitable, social enterprises and lone adventurers as dedicated and determined as

we are to address the inequality of careers education. We believe that by combining our ideas we can create a new and bespoke careers education, a better vocational pedagogy, and harness digital technology to re-imagine a careers education that will permit ‘pushed-out’ students to also pursue their passions, gifts and talents.

NOT NEET TWEETS

Back to Murray Davis formula for making things interesting. The one thing Davis didn’t say in his article back in 1971 is that to attract attention you need to keep things short and punchy (we’re clearly failed here). So, in an age where brevity is king here are 10 140 character Tweet messages about our work with pushedout learners on the Facework project. Who knows perhaps we could even get #NOTNEETTWEETS trending.

Now that would be interesting!

 #NOTNEETTWEETS FROM OUR WORK WITH PUSHED-OUT LEARNERS

iconmonstr-twitter-icon-24  How do you identify your skills? Student replies “What makes you sparkle like a diamond?” Bad experiences help polish the diamond #neettweets

iconmonstr-twitter-icon-24  How do you answer ‘Have I ever been in trouble with the law?’ in an interview? Reply from student “Ask the interviewer” #mybad

iconmonstr-twitter-icon-24  Got a student who loves working on cars. He’s got dirty hands but a good heart. Need a garage willing to give him a trial? #needabreak

iconmonstr-twitter-icon-24  Student told me the guy interviewing him was more scared than he was, is that a good thing? #waitingforfeedback.

iconmonstr-twitter-icon-24  Student sums it up. “Passion is the root of everything. You don’t show passion, you aint got that job. #simple

iconmonstr-twitter-icon-24  Comment from student, “You got to learn from what you’ve done wrong. Swore at my boss, got fired, won’t do that again! #attitudeisking

iconmonstr-twitter-icon-24  Student “better if I had a video CV. When you are on camera you’re not so inhibited, I’d be able to show examples. #oldCVsrdead

iconmonstr-twitter-icon-24  Telling students it’s more important to be bighearted than big headed but will that get them a job? #neettweets

iconmonstr-twitter-icon-24  Student tells me he didn’t start to learn till he was 19. I did silly that was my problem. #readynow.

 

 

 

 

Download the article here Pushed Out Learners. Inclusion Trust Paper for 2014 Youth Employment Convention

Conversations Into Employment

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Introduction to Facework

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Tweets@facework

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Social Entrepreneur Stephen Carrick-Davies reflects on the desperate need to create better work-related training resources for marginalised and excluded young people

In 1979 the UK Conservative party produced a powerful billboard ad depicting a long, snaking queue of claimants outside an unemployment office with the words “Labour Isn’t Working.” The juxtaposition of apparently real unemployed people (later revealed to be volunteers from Hendon Young Conservatives) with those three powerful words made a lasting impression on millions of voters and, some claim, made a crucial difference to the election and the 43-seat majority won by Margaret Thatcher’s party. The not working claim worked. The pun was all it took and the party of the worker was consigned to years without power.

Labour isn't working

Last week I attended a Centre for Economic and Social Inclusion workshop entitled ‘Digital innovation in job search – enabling tools for the furthest from work.’ As I listened to the various speakers this poster came to mind and I thought about those at the end of the queue as they waited for that elusive job. One thing is for certain, if it was re-created today, those in the queue would be on their mobile phones or tablets, plugged into music or social media, tweeting or using ‘What’sApp?’ or BBM to connect to their peers, friends or information networks. Perhaps some of them would even be using these shiny new symbols of our modernity and independence to look for work. How ironic, then, to think that although the lives of claimants have changed dramatically in the past 35 years, the process by which people have to queue up to see advisors or claim benefit, is similar to when the first employment exchanges were built by Lloyd-George almost a century ago.

However there is also a far more startling difference. If that picture were taken for a poster today there would be an increasing number of young people who wouldn’t even be in this queue, not even at the very end. For me, working with marginalised and vulnerable young people who have been excluded from mainstream education, getting them to join a queue is a job in itself. It’s not only work that isn’t working, work-related learning -the process by which we help young people understand what employers (and claimant advisors) want – isn’t working for this group. Indeed, a better caption for an updated poster would be, that for marginalised and excluded young people, “Education isn’t working ” An equally provocative, and generalist claim as the original poster, but is it true?

Education isn't working

At the conference we heard about a number of important online job-related learning resources like Plotr , Discoverables, Monster and Represent which are using the latest technologies to shake up work-related learning and give young people new ways of understanding themselves and the world of work. But what about those at the end of the queue? Are technology and sites like these the answers for those who live on a Special Needs spectrum? Those who are shy or school-phobic? Those who have never been shown by a working parent the “look ’em in the eye” confidence trick? Indeed, for marginalised young learners with very low levels of literacy, confidence or self-esteem these platforms can simply reinforce the sense that they are on the wrong side of the door. That’s why the Facework platform I am developing with The Inclusion Trust, funded by Nominet Trust, is focussed on those young people who are excluded from main-stream schools and society at large. You see, many of these children have already got the message that the only queue they will join is towards the door marked ‘NEET’ (Not in Education, Employment or Training.) When you put yourself in their shoes, it’s understandable why the task of learning to get a job is so painful. If university kids can’t get a job with the bank of mum and dad and experienced CV writing services behind them what hope have they got? Self-preservation kicks in when you are an outcast and the prospect of yet further rejection in joining the back of the queue is a public humiliation too far. Better keep quiet, simply accept the “pre-NEET” label and get your kicks from the street.
Understanding the reasons why most work-related learning isn’t working for marginalised young people is difficult. There’s plenty of proof that the problem is serious with more than 1 million 16-24 year olds classified as NEET in the UK, but reviewing which training resources and approaches are effective is difficult. First there is such a disparate range of providers including the appallingly-titled “Pupil Referral Units” (PRUs) working with an estimated 37,000 excluded children. Apart from Charlie Taylor’s review of PRUs in 2012 there has been very little recent strategic analysis assessing the way these organisations are equipped to innovate and pioneer new models of support for some of the most challenging groups of learners. We do, however, get a glimpse of what is happening in mainstream schools from a recent Ofsted report (September 2013) which pulled no punches in criticising schools for failing in their duty to provide impartial careers advice.

From working in PRUs for a number of years I sense that there is little innovation in this area of work-related learning. For example there appears to be little sharing of effective job-related learning resources, few effective links with employers’ groups or job matching services, and little professional staff development in designing up-to-date employment training curricula.

Since September 2012 schools (mainstream or otherwise) have had a statutory responsibility to provide independent careers advice and prepare young learners for the huge changes in our worlds of work. But it is extremely tough on schools, who in our grades-obsessed education culture can easily take the default position that it is only academic grades which create employability. With the fear of the call from Ofsted (head teachers tell me that if they haven’t had it by Wednesday they can breathe again till Monday) and their humiliating ‘satisfactory’ label, is it any surprise that too many schools feel they have to exclude challenging children?

ANYTIME SOON IS NOT SOON ENOUGH

But schools reflect society’s wider values and back on the street the “everything everywhere ” lie being peddled through the advertising billboards and the more targeted social networking marketing is having a profound impact on the mass consciousness. Many young people believe that they can only be successful if they are popular, in work, famous, beautiful… NOW! Anytime soon is not soon enough. Their grandparents may have been content to stand politely in line for a bus or an appointment, but not this generation. The only time a queue is acceptable to today’s youth culture is when thousands wait for an audition to appear on the X Factor! When the currency is Instagram, the mantra is “now”. Impatience becomes a virtue, the need to wait a curse and the concept of deferred gratification an antiquated custom from a bygone age. What you can’t download or Bluetooth in a blink is irrelevant. What you can’t cut and paste is a waste. Little wonder then that Curriculum Vitaes (CVs) which employees still cling to as the yardstick by which they judge a candidate are such useless documents for many young people. It’s not just the Latin (“The course of your life”) which means so little, the very concept feels irrelevant. Why would you spend time making up and re-presenting your skills and qualities to an employer on paper (an old media) when the “boast by post” medium you use every day is easier, intuitive, fun, transportable and presents your skills in moving images? All that young people hear is that their digital footprint will get them into trouble. What other network have these youngsters got through which to share their troubled, challenging and often chaotic home circumstances? Yes, a picture may be worth a thousand words, and if that picture is damaging to your reputation you’re in big trouble, but what about the positive?

Yes, social media platforms provide crowded personal spaces but when did learning ever happen only in total privacy? If only we could take the time to recognise and give credit for the resilience many young people have had to show in dealing with deep trauma, accredit the qualities shown in being a young carer. Or find a way to validate the skills they have acquired in negotiating with, and protecting themselves from, a persistently violent and drunk parent. Don’t tell me these are not skills, and not of supreme relevance to a good teacher, not only to help a child know how to set their privacy settings and leave out references to troubled circumstances, but to help a child reflect on the skills they are demonstrating online and show how these core strengths can be re-interpreted and positively expressed for a future employer.

THE NEW FRONTIER

Online social spaces have become more than just personal learning and support networks. For most young people they are just a normal part of life to be used for both personal and professional use. However, why is it that 10 years into the social media revolution there is still such little recognition by both teachers and employers that the core competencies of the modern work place, outlined by the CBI among others, of self management, team working, problem solving, customer awareness, speaking and listening, numeracy and literacy and application of IT are the very competencies rehearsed every day in these spaces? It is in these personalised learning spaces that motivation for learning and engagement is being re-booted, that inquiry is being celebrated, and that the precious oxygen of learning -constant quick feedback – is received and owned because it’s from those who matter, peers. Is this not relevant to teaching? We used to say “help a child read … use a book if necessary!” Good teachers today have to recognise and validate and nourish the learning taking place within these private environments, but how, if they ignore, belittle or block access to these places? This is the new frontier for educators and we need the best teachers to tackle this conundrum and make learning and inquiry relevant right at the intersection where popular culture, social belonging, creativity, ethics, safeguarding and learning meet. It’s always been that way, it’s just that now it is personal, private and portable online. These disruptive technologies are throwing up huge challenges and distorting the horizon. However, by the time we adults have stopped groping around in the change-shadow these changes cast and become acclimatized to the changing light we may look up only to realise that our young learners have gone.

RECALIBRATING THE MACHINE

In his prophetic short story ‘The Machine Stops’ EM Forster describes a world in which an over-powerful Machine becomes such a mystical entity that humans become wholly subservient to it for their sharing of ideas and knowledge. It is only when one of the protagonists believes that the Machine is breaking down and begins to tell others cryptically that “The Machine stops” that others realise their error and try to connect to a more human scale of living.

The Machine isn't working

When we started the Facework project we thought we knew what was needed within the machine of alternative education. We wanted to engage directly with young people and teachers from PRUs, to co-design and develop a platform though which individual PRUs could work with students to create and share exciting, locally- relevant, work-related learning activities. These would include helping marginalised students to use social media tools to create more effective personalised digital CVs and ‘face-work’ profiles. Furthermore we would help PRUs recruit online vetted mentors to “nudge” and “poke” young people through ‘the machine’ giving regular feedback and support through their work journey. But … and it’s a big BUT… we were wrong. The machine is not working because it can’t be fired up yet! To that extent our learning is working. Six months into the project we’ve realised we are wrong and we are returning to the drawing board.

Whilst the effective use of digital technology provides remarkable opportunities to redesign how we address persistent social challenges, it’s not just “the technology,stupid!” As Dan Sutch from Nominet shared at the conference, “Social innovation occurs only when there is successful application of new ideas generated at the intersection of insight and invention which leads to the creation of social or economic value”. He goes on, “Digital technology has to be coupled with creativity and imagination for how else we might address these issues: risk taking and testing of these new approaches, entrepreneurship and willingness, aspiration, persistence and tenacity, including openness and collaboration.” To this list I would add “open-source mentality and emotional literacy.” For there is indeed the need for emotion (children with special needs need special people to show them love, respect and trust) but coupled with this, there is a desperate need for us to admit we are failing and with the limited resources we all have to re-negotiate our profession and hunger for making our knowledge more relevant to the life and times of digital learners. In that sense we need to recalibrate the wider ‘Machine’ of education work-related learning.

Perhaps it starts by not designing new platforms but by collaborating and gaining insight from those in other fields who use technology appropriately and are constantly re-calibrating their practice as a result of what they are learning from the data technology can provide AND others who are working in other challenging fields. So is there anyone out there who :

  • wants to join us at the drawing board and share their work-related learning curriculum in the hope that it will be improved by peer review and classified into an exciting new taxonomy?
  • wants to throw open their assessment data in the hope that perhaps a creative student can better present student progression and data in a startling new data map or infographic?
  • is willing to risk putting a pupil’s digital CV up and act as a recruitment agent for them, mediating comments and mentoring?
  • wants to develop a tools by which PRUs map local employers within a five mile radius of their centres? Or perhaps design an interactive ability profiler or a universal job match app for yp with low levels of literacy?
  • wants to help the CBI in creating a more granular taxonomy for open employability standards and help move away from GCSE single grades to a “vector” of grades?

It is crucial to look out there to turn around the learning if we are to re-calibrate the machine. If we as educators can’t be open, radically re-learn from young people and collaborate with others out there to help fashion new digital tools and approaches to transforming the lives of marginalised young people, the queue will continue to be long and the cry that “Education, labour or the machine isn’t working” will become ever louder.

Stephen Carrick-Davies is an independent consultant, social entrepreneur and trainer. See www.carrick-davies.com and www.inclusiontrust.org for more information.

Stephen Carrick-Davies is an independent consultant, social entrepreneur and trainer. See www.carrick-davies.com and www.inclusiontrust.org for more information.

Follow Stephen Carrick-Davies on Twitter: www.twitter.com/StephenCarrickD