University not ‘the-be-all-and-end-all’

Written by: Sam Phipps | Published:

​Too many parents and teachers promote university as automatically the best pathway after school, to the detriment of less academic pupils, according to a leading Scottish industrialist.

Sir Ian Wood, a philanthropist and former chief executive of oil services company Wood Group, said huge numbers of young people – “the neglected 50 per cent” – were being let down by a pervasive culture that prized higher education above any other route.

Sir Ian told a meeting of the Scottish Parliament’s Education Committee: “There is a real cultural thing about university being the be-all-and-end-all and therefore anything that is not university frankly tends to get secondary consideration.

“Parents are at fault, teachers are at fault, some schools are at fault,” he added.

Apprenticeships and trades occupations need to be given a higher status, particularly as many young people who had a technical education earned more than university graduates, he said.

“A lot of people go to university because their parents want them to go to university … but they come out and they are still not sure what they want to do and the qualification hasn’t really helped them an awful lot.

“Parents are the root of the problem, but teachers are the next stage up because a lot of teachers believe that their (sole) success is based on how many Highers their children get.”

Eileen Prior, executive director of parent body Connect Scotland, said many parents often lacked information from schools about diverse routes both in and after school.

“They often feel frustrated that their child is being ignored in a system which focuses on higher education, if their child is not academically minded.”

Schools need to help families and young people see the value of wider approaches, she added.

However, Larry Flanagan, general secretary of the Educational Institute of Scotland, said it was the Scottish government and schools quango Education Scotland rather than teachers who “obsessed” about the number of Higher passes.

He also argued business had exacerbated the problem by making more jobs degree level entry only.

Mr Flanagan said: “I think teachers will bridle at (Wood’s) dismissal of their efforts to encourage vocational pathways.

“We have been arguing constantly that senior school has been overly focused on qualifications for the past four years.”


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