Yesterday we had a whole-cohort leading learning session about aspirations. This involved 1000 people having a conversation about this education issue in one room. There was a Question Time style panel and a Powerpoint but it was made really interactive with twitter feeds and whole-cohort voting on whether they agreed with what people said.

The session started off with the general platitudes about aspiration for every pupil but it really got interesting when the facilitator, Ndidi (who I think did a great job), started asking some difficult questions about dreams versus aspirations and academic aspirations versus non-academic.

Predictably for a bunch of lefty 20 somethings, most were steadfast in their belief that they would support any aspiration their imaginary children had, no matter what society thought of it. I was with them up to this point.

Ndidi made it more concrete by asking whether the system should move to having a 50:50 split of academic and non-academic subjects on the timetable. Most still supported this.

She then asked whether we would want our own children to take the non-academic route, if they showed equal promise at both.

Realising, I think, that it’s all too easy to claim that in the abstract, Ndidi brought it down to earth, asking whether anyone had siblings still at school and what we wanted for them. I put my hand up and the roaming mike came to me.

I was honest and said while my brother was talented at both science and football, if I had to choose one for him to concentrate on it would be science. That route is statistically far more likely to be successful for him. Whilst I’m sure he would figure his life out if he abandoned academics and concentrated on football, I think his life will be easier and less stressful with the more traditional route.

I was quite taken aback at the negative response to that comment.

Let’s be clear here. I wasn’t saying he shouldn’t play football. I was asked what my aspirations for him looked like. And they are academic, with, I’m sure, a lot of football played on the side.

I’m still frustrated by the response I got. We have a shortage of STEM workers in this country. That’s not the case for footballers. So, yes, I do think we should, all other things equal be promoting maths and science. Do we not want the children we educate to leave being employable? I think we are doing students a grave, grave disservice if we don’t give them the chance, and perhaps the push, to excel in areas where jobs are available rather than where they are not.

4 thoughts on “Aspire?

  1. Bigkid

    The problem isn’t with aspirations. It is with the lack of realism pupils have about the relative chances of success. I have taught dozens of pupils over the years who have been on the books of various football clubs. Most of them have been convinced they were going to make it as professional footballers. None of them have. Most of them failed at school and failed badly because they were convinced they did not need school or qualifications.

    I currently teach pupils who do not need qualifications because they are going to be everything from a football player to a children’s tv presenter, actress, rapper etc. There is nothing wrong with these aspirations but there is something wrong with their delusional levels of belief in their limited talents and their lack of realism both about their chances of success and about the amount of work required to get to be whatever it is they want to be.

    It seems to me that most of them think they will leave school and walk into whatever their dream job is with no work what so ever. They certainly haven’t put any work into finding out the requirements or developing the required skills/knowledge. It is almost an article of faith with them that they will find someone that shares their belief that are brilliant at rapping (or whatever) and throw money at them.

    Sadly their parents often share this belief.

    What adds to the frustration is people (pop stars, actors, footballers) that have made it saying “I was an arsehole at school. My teachers said I wouldn’t amount to anything. They said I would never make it. Don’t listen to your teachers, follow your dreams.” What these morons never say is how much work and graft they had to put in to make it. THEY NEVER MENTION THE FACT THAT THEY CHANGED. They obviously did not continue being a tosser who refused to put any effort into anything or do what they were told or they would not have made it.

  2. Neil Garratt

    A relative of mine used to be involved in running the FA’s national football school at Lilleshall, where each year they’d take 16 boys who were identified as the most talented fourteen year old footballers in the country.They’d completely immerse them in football for 2 years at a boarding school with some of the best FA coaches on site. The school can point to great successes and top talents such as Michael Owen absolutely thrived there, but even among that elite cohort, not everyone made it to the top. In fact, most failed even to forge a journeyman Premier League career. It’s worth stressing: the top 16 young players in the country at age 14, put in a football hothouse with the best coaches on tap and the best youngsters to train with, yet most didn’t make it in the Premier League.

    This article talks a bit about some of the successes and failures:–Reality-bites-ghosts-FAs-past–failed-Lilleshall-experiment.html#axzz2KQ9jBiOC

    My relative was in charge of pastoral care and I think he saw that his main responsibility was to keep their feet on the ground, heads in their school work and stop them getting carried away with the “I’m gonna be a star!” mentality, because he knew that even among that elite group not all of them would make it. Obviously, he was right: it really is a long shot. And even if you make it, what will you do after you’re about 30 when football doesn’t want you any more? Or if you get injured and given the boot?

    Equally, you were absolutely right to say that science is the better focus, not football. Those arguing otherwise are not just wrong but deluded, and frankly a menace to their students. Not simply because there are more careers in science than football, but because time spent studying science and gaining GCSEs or A Levels will stand anyone in good stead for almost any career they care to name. Likewise qualifications in maths, English, MFL, etc. All the traditional qualifications that people want for their own children. Employers see them as a proxy for “intelligent and hard working”. The same is hardly true of an equivalent numbers of hours playing football, whatever its merits. Don’t let your common sense instincts be led astray by the naive “everything’s as good as anything else” thinking.

  3. Neil Garratt

    Two quick points following on from my last comment:

    I checked with my relative, and of the nearly 200 boys who came through the FA school when he was there, he estimates that about 10% made it to a Premier League career and only about 4 or 5 became household names (all listed in that article). More than that did get into PL squads and played a couple of games, but were quickly dropped. What is probably obvious to you and me but not to children is that professional sport is a ruthlessly competitive perform-or-die world: there is always a younger, faster player trying to take your place, and there is always an older established playing fighting to keep his place above you.

    Second, my wife showed me a funny conversation from a mumsnet-style discussion forum, about a sixth-former’s thoughts on university and careers. The joke was around the clueless misconceptions of the daughter and the mum setting her straight. But it reminded me of your post: one of the ways in which children of educated middle class parents gain an advantage is in the better career and life guidance they receive at home and from their wider family and friends. By better I mean in a sense both more ambitious but also more realistic. If teachers are giving children unrealistic, wooly-headed career advice, which children will suffer most? Yep: the ones who don’t get good advice at home. It’s another sad case of well-meaning lefty progressive ideology working against the disadvantaged kids they presume to be helping.


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