Vince Cable has rightly been criticised for saying that “teachers know absolutely nothing about the world of work”, a remark that is not only crass and insulting (teachers have got used to that from Coalition politicians – Mr Gove must be having a breather!) but ignorant. What version of ‘the world of work’ is in Cable’s mind? He seems to be playing to the stereotype of teachers living outside the experience of ordinary workers (sorry, I mean “hard-working families”) when, demonstrably, that is not the case. Teachers get up each day, commute to a place of employment, mix with non-teacher workers, pay tax and insurance and use many skills that would be recognisable to those in other jobs: managing people and budgets, preparing, demonstrating accountability, complying with legislation, recruiting and training new entrants, participating in PR activities, interfacing with customers, coping with change: I could go on. Perhaps Mr Cable means teachers have no experience of the commercial world of private enterprise – that’s true but less so than before thanks to the press towards a marketised education system. Does that mean no public servant knows about the world of work? Certainly, the attempts by this government to set those who work for private companies against those in public service have suggested this.
Well, at least Vince is one person who speaks with authority, he’s not one of those politicians who has only ever been in politics and knows about the rigours of private enterprise, right? Well, not, actually. That’s what I thought but I did some research and, it turns out Vince spent longer in university than most teachers (two degrees, from Cambridge and Glasgow) and then great irony (they’re not good at that, are they, politicians?) he actually taught (well, lectured) at Glasgow and LSE. Apart from that, he’s been a government and political adviser and then a professional politician, except for two years in the nineties as Chief Economist at Royal Dutch Shell. One is tempted to suggest that the Business Secretary knows only slightly more about business than the Education Secretary knows about education!
Of course, no one thinks you have to have direct experience of something to have an opinion or advise about it. When I delivered careers lessons in school, a lot was about the basiC nuts and bolts: writing a CV, conducting yourself in an interview, understanding tax and national insurance, all of which I felt qualified to talk about because I DID have direct experience. As for advising on specific careers, not even the experts would claim to know about every job. The procedure was to help the student towards an understanding of what they might realistically aspire to and encourage them to research (there is plenty of material on line these days).
Irony#2 : this government took away the specialist service ‘Connexions’ and put responsibility for ‘careers education’ onto schools, without additional resources, of course. Now Wilshaw is threatening to include it in inspections from September and Cable implies teachers don’t inhabit the real world so are unable to do it. That’s another one crossed off the Christmas card list!