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Map reading for the future: guidance in schools

Published on 22/04/14

Journey into Wonderland? It’s a cliché that one of the purposes of education is to prepare children for the adult world. But that’s not as straightforward as it sounds, since we don’t know what we’re preparing them for.

Many year 7 (6th grade) students will be in formal education for at least another decade. Children who started school this academic year aged five will leave the Upper 6th (12th grade) in 2026. We don’t know what the landscape will be by then but we can be reasonably sure that it won’t be the same as now. So there’s an ‘Alice in Wonderland’ quality to educating for the future: it’s a journey with a different route, complete with detours, and a moveable destination for every child.

So how can schools help students navigate this? I suggest two strands: inspire and guide.

Firstly, inspiration. We’re not aiming to churn out a conveyer-belt of identikit students with excellent exam results but to inspire children with a love of learning, a sense of belief in themselves and a desire to seize opportunities. Our programme of ‘inspire me’ events creates an amazing ‘feel good’ factor; we invariably leave feeling upbeat, uplifted and – yes, the clue is in the name – inspired. Speakers as diverse as a biochemist-turned-chocolatier and a doctor-turned-cricket-journalist have expanded students’ horizons and opened their minds to limitless possibilities.

But inspiration without guidance is not enough. When we’re going on a long journey, we don’t just get in the car and hope for the best; we plan the route, take a map/GPS and check signposts along the way to make sure we haven’t gone horribly wrong. In just the same way, we guide students on their journey. Sometimes this is direct – giving information to aid decisions about next steps, whether choosing GCSE options or budgeting for university. These are the maps and signposts that lead to informed and self-aware choices rather than panicky guesswork.

But being human isn’t a straight line of perfect decisions and controllable events from a collection of A* at GCSE to a first-class degree followed by a dream job. Things happen. We can’t prevent this – it’s called life - but we can give children the skills to help them feel able to cope in the face of the inevitable difficulties. And that’s the indirect but crucial role of guidance: helping young people to develop the personal qualities and resources to manage the challenges they’ll face. Building resilience, self-belief and positive mental health, dealing with loss and bereavement, stress and anxiety, failure and the fear of failure, are all vital aspects of our personal, social and health education programme and of education in its widest sense. We can’t give children a crystal ball or a magic wand for their journey but we can give them the map and teach them how to read it.