Am I good enough?

It’s a question that haunts me continuously, and from conversations I’ve had with peers and friends, haunts a lot of other people too.

Am I good enough for the project I’m about to embark on? This job I want to apply for? Or have applied for? To have that opinion? To be in this meeting? This room? At the table?

Often we look for outside clues that we might be good enough. Our boss telling us what a great job we are doing? Some good results? A positive outcome? The problem is much of that is fickle. It depends on what type of boss we have, the project or the multiple factors that affect it. As a result our self esteem takes a rollercoaster ride, sometimes high, sometimes low because of these factors.

Many of us have a date with imposter syndrome, more often than we’d like. I recently watched a video by Ali Abdaal, a youtube star who made his mark by offering advice to medical students being a junior doctor himself. In one of his videos he speaks about Imposter Syndrome and says ‘The thing is, you are an imposter.’ And that stopped me in my tracks. It makes sense doesn’t it. If you’re trying something new, a project, job, task, you are an imposter, you’ve never done it before. But that doesn’t have to stop us. Maybe we just accept that.

This got me thinking, maybe the question isn’t ‘Am I good enough?’ but ‘Am I getting better?’ Every time I embark on something knew that doesn’t guarantee success am I trying to get better? Again this can be a fickle beast if we look for reassurance from the outside world but if we set personal indicators it is a lot better. For instance writing a book for the first time? Some methods to get better are to write more, set yourself word targets, get editing software and look at the changes it is suggesting for your text to know how you can improve your writing etc… Starting a new job? Look at the job description and set yourself targets that you yourself can feedback on, for example if raising the quality of teaching, support struggling staff, meet with them regularly, set clear targets for them and help them achieve these, buddy them up with someone who demonstrates the skill set they are trying to develop. Often by helping others we feel good enough too.

So as I embark on branching out and trying projects beyond teaching my new question is ‘Am I getting better.’ And I’ll be the judge of that.

Is it worth going to university?

Twenty or so years ago a university education would have guaranteed you a well paid job. People with degrees were rare and so having a degree level qualification to your name would make you stand out at the very least and get your foot in through the door.

Fast forward to 2021 and the landscape is very different.

A paper by Universities UK  titled ‘Patterns and Trends in UK Higher Education’ published in 2018 shows the growing number of University students since 2009 (see chart below).  

I do not think it is a bad thing that these numbers are growing, some of this is down to the great work put in by universities to reach out to a broader audience of students and encourage them to attend university where they may not have traditionally considered it. Young people who are the first in their families to go to university. I myself, was one of these people.

Yet, with more recent figures claiming that half of all 18 year olds go to university and as the scarcity of people walking around with degrees is reduces, it begs the question, is it worth it?  Considering that they may not make you stand out any more it is a valid question. Add to that the growing costs of tuition fees, housing etc.. and alternatives to university being pushed by the government, are students better off opting for alternatives?

I find myself having this discussion with my A Level students each year. May of them come in with a mindset that University degrees are more valuable than an apprenticeship and it’s only when we dig deeper that they see the value in apprenticeships rather than dated ideas about them.

So is it worth going to university?

There are a number of ways we can answer the question.

One is to look at the earning potential of degree courses, if students are completing a degree, what they will gain out of it financially.

The government published a a fascinating paper on this in November 2018 called ‘The impact of undergraduate degrees on early-career earnings.’ In it they highlight:

“Not all degrees are the same, and subject choice appears to be a very important determinant of returns. For men, studying creative arts, English or philosophy actually result in lower earnings on average at age 29 than people with similar background characteristics who did not go to HE at all. By contrast, studying medicine or economics appears to increase earnings by more than 20%. For women, there are no subjects that have negative average returns, and studying economics or medicine increases their age 29 earnings by around 60%.”

I would encourage anyone interested in this area to read the whole paper, particularly to highlight the difference in pre HE characteristics e.g. higher attainment and background which also has an impact on earnings.

In December 2019 FE news published the highest and lowest earning degrees in the UK 5 years after graduating.

The highest earning degrees were:

Lowest earning degrees were:  

I think the above also raises questions about how we value different career choices in our society and in our markets. But should we base going to university on its financial benefits alone? Personally I don’t think so.

We know our young people don’t just complete degrees for earning potential. Many pursue subjects that they have a passion for or that lead them to careers they aspire to be in. Unfortunately, there is no data to show this (unless you are looking for satisfaction results by institution rather than degree level).

With a growing emphasis on degree level apprenticeships and the new T Levels however we do need to question whether students would be getting an equally valuable experience out of these rather than a degree. Again with many of them being so new data is hard to find to answer this question.

The Incomes Data Research Centre published some interesting research about the starting hourly rate of degrees vs apprenticeships in July 2019 and compared it to National Minimum Wage. Their findings are summarised below:

However, they did note:

“Despite the attractive pay on offer for apprentices, the study has found that graduates are more likely than apprentices to complete their training in full, possibly due to the development opportunities and status offered by such programmes, suggesting that recruits to graduate programmes perhaps have greater longevity with the same employer. Whether this changes as the number of degree-apprentices increases remains to be seen.”

So the conclusion?

This isn’t an easy question to answer. Higher education is about more than just earning potential (although that is important for our young people) and much of the softer data doesn’t exist. Whether students pick degrees or apprentices depends on how well they understand themselves and those around them understand them and can advise them.

I’m pleased to say I have seen some of my phenomenal students go to the most prestigious universities, others be the first ones to complete university degrees in their families and yet others complete apprenticeships at companies such as Rolls Royce, Google and KPMG. Each one chose their path based on what they felt was important to them in terms of style of learning, exposure to industry, lifestyle, location and many more factors. I was privileged to help them navigate through these complex questions. I was surprised how many came in with their parents with negative connotations towards apprenticeships and a preference for degrees and changed their minds once they recognised what alternatives to traditional degrees could offer.

Although I can’t offer a single response to the question I can for certain say that the conversation around this needs to continue with our young people and their parents for them to make the right decisions for themselves. 

Some sources of information mentioned above:

https://www.incomesdataresearch.co.uk/resources/press-releases/pay-for-degree-apprentices-rises-more-rapidly-than-that-for-traditional-graduates-press

https://www.fenews.co.uk/press-releases/39718-ucas-deadline-the-highest-and-lowest-earning-degrees-revealed

https://www.universitiesuk.ac.uk/facts-and-stats/data-and-analysis/Documents/patterns-and-trends-in-uk-higher-education-2018.pdf

Debit, Credit and Credit Scores

In a world where Klarna means that young people are more readily getting credit from their favourite stores, stores are offering you a store card when you go to check out for an item and Apple Pay and contactless mean you barley ever exchange cash for an item it is fair to say our young people have a different relationship to money then we did. This makes it all the more necessary to teach our students about Credit, Debit and the impact of their shopping habits on their credit scores for the future.

On a personal note, I can still remember an intervention me and a housemate had to stage for a friend in our second year of university. Her credit card spending was out of control and we could see her spiralling into debt. The intervention included cutting up her credit card so she would only spend money on her debit card. Looking back at it it was quite a mature thing to do, as we could quite easily just have admired her new clothes and laptop. I was lucky to have a group of friends I could discuss my financial health with. Our students might not be.

According to The Money Charity in February 2021 Credit card debt averaged £1962 per household and £1032 per adult. They also noted that a credit card on the average interest would take 24 years and 5 months to repay making only the minimum repayments each month.

I’m loathed to say Credit cards are bad. Because they really aren’t. There are purchases on which I would absolutely use them. Buying flights for instance which are automatically insured via the credit card company. Always helpful when stranded in an airport after numerous flight cancellations (I’m speaking from experience). They are also important to build up a credit score.

The resources this week highlight:

  • The difference between debit and credit
  • Interest rates
  • How your credit rating is developed
  • The importance of a credit ratings
  • Where to use your credit and debit cards.

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The value of teaching our young people about hustles

According to the IPSE, the UK had 4.4 million solo self-employed people, meaning they worked alone for themselves and did not employ people. We may know them as freelancers who offer a particular set of skills (at the risk of channeling Liam Neeson here) such as a graphic designer.

In addition to this, in January 2021 Micro Biz Magazine offered the below statistics about the number of people with a side hustle as well as their main job:

  • There are 1.1 million people in the UK with a second job or who are self-employed in addition to a primary job.
  • That’s 3% of the working population.
  • Despite this, 25% of people in the UK claim to have a side hustle.
  • 37% of people in the UK say that their salary alone does not allow them to have a comfortable lifestyle.

Whilst the exact number of people is difficult to quantify (what counts as a side hustle and does everyone reveal it?) the trend is that more people are willing to have a primary job and then try to earn money on the side. This can be through anything from consulting to proof reading and becoming a seller/promoter of beauty brands on social media (the modern take on the Avon lady).

Of course there are discussions to be had here, what does it say about our societies that people have to have multiple jobs to live a life they are comfortable in? Are peoples’ expectations of what they should have too high? Or is the average salary and the average person’s spending power too low? I do not explore these in the resources, but it is something that we as adults can think about as we prepare young people to go into work.

Needless to say, our students will enter a world where it will be commonplace to have more than one source of income from a 9-5 job.

The accompanying slide decks cover different side hustles and what people can do to develop them as well as some famous side hustles that became big businesses.

What may seem to us as teachers as a hobby, is being monetised by many young people. However not every hobby should be monetised as some may feel that by expecting to earn from it can take away from its joy.

It’s also important to note that companies are increasingly turning to freelancers to complete tasks they choose to outsource, so the demand for people who want to complete these tasks whether they be graphic design or proof reading for example continues to grow. 

Courage – that old trickster

Courage and fear have been playing on my mind a lot recently.

Last week I put the following question on my wall:

What have you done today where others would have quit?

It was a challenge to myself, not to take the easy path. I’m not talking about mighty feats such as ultramarathons here. I’m talking about little things such as reading those couple of pages in a book that I enjoy even though I’m tired, or waking up 20 mins earlier to have time to meditate or exercise.

However, the quote really came to the forefront this weekend just gone when I got my manuscript back from the editor. It had….wait for it….8569 changes/comments to it.

Now I was a geek at school and red pen on my essays would send my head into a spin so imagine my reaction when this manuscript came back with the left-hand margin covered in comments.

Since deciding not to be a head I’ve tried to follow my heart a lot more. This has required me to put myself out there and try things a lot more than I’m used to. Saying yes to Abby Bayford for the Naylors Natter podcast is a classic example. I changed my top for that 3 times 10 minutes before we recorded. I do not know why, as it was audio only, but I never said my behaviour made sense. Talking for the first time about English not being my first language and how the little voice in my head, for every blog I write, whispers that I’m going to mess up, write in a way that makes me look uneducated, stupid or intellectually vacant is very real.

So back to the 8569 edits received on Friday. Well, on Friday evening I had a few drinks and went to bed early telling myself I was tired. On Saturday I stayed in bed till mid morning, telling myself I needed rest. By mid day I was out of excuses and sulking around the house. What I really needed was to face the fear of plucking away at a manuscript I have already spent a year creating, to get it to where I’m proud of it.

Confession: I am a sucker for motivational quotes, videos, podcasts and music. Look at my Spotify playlists and they’re all called things like ‘Happiness’ or ‘Girl Power.’ So on Saturday I was listening to a motivational video on YouTube and it was by Robert Herjavec a Canadian businessman, the son of immigrants he talked about his success and being emotionally attached to his projects. He states one of the biggest lessons he learnt was to keep a healthy distance between himself and what he produced. To listen to feedback and do what needs to be done. The words that really stuck out to me were ‘All you deserve in life is an opportunity’ and then you go after it. I have the opportunity to write. Whether or not I do it well is up to me and how much practice I put in. But I must take this opportunity. Because my parents didn’t have it and came to the UK to give it to me. Fear will not rob me nor them of that privilege.

So when I asked myself what I would say to myself when I go to bed at night and ask ‘What have I done today where others would have quit’ it would be, I kept writing and the little girl who couldn’t communicate in nursery, kept having a voice.

Just so you know, I have now worked through 1000 of those edits. None of it was graceful, and a lot of KitKats have been eaten.

Like I mentioned in a recent tweet. Maybe Courage isn’t all brash and proud. Maybe it’s more like having a sulk, throwing a hissy fit, and then doing what needs to be done.

What’s the cost of your chosen job?

I don’t know about you but when I was growing up my parents had a very clear idea about which jobs would allow me to be financially comfortable (namely, lawyer, doctor, engineer) and which ones wouldn’t (writer, artist anything creative). Unfortunately for them I displayed more creative qualities from an early age than I did the scientific.

Some thirty or so years on and they are shocked to learn how much some professions can make. A creative designer, photographer etc.. and how society has started valuing certain professions differently. 

There are numerous sources showing the average salary of a variety of jobs, some can be found in the resources for this blog. However a key discussion we do need to have with students is around cost benefit. For instance does the average salary of a pharmacist justify the years of training? Does the average salary of a CEO justify the risk? It’s easy for students to look at average salaries and think ‘I want that!’, but are they willing to put in the work? And that’s a serious discussion we need to have rather than assuming they should be. Some people don’t want to take risks of entrepreneurship, others don’t want to spend 5 years training for a job and all of that is ok. 

The other catch is that sometimes jobs can seem cooler than they are. Job Descriptions are valuable here. Get students to look at Job descriptions online to understand what a job involves. The every day tasks, the responsibilities. 

I was surprised to see when I googled ‘Factors to consider when choosing a career’ none of the lists considered this in any detail. Let me repeat that. When I googled ‘Factors to consider when choosing a career’ many of them didn’t tell you to look at a job description and many more failed to suggest we consider the cost of entering a profession. How does that make sense?

In order to set our students up for success in their chosen careers they have to have a good understanding of themselves. What is their attitude to risk? How would they feel about sitting in lectures for 3-5 years? Do they have the discipline to study for exams for another 3 years? Or longer? Do they want to be in a profession where they have to be requalify? 

I’ve put together some materials to help with these discussions.

Does Money Make Us Happy?

Many people may have had this thought during lockdown. Or perhaps another question: How much money makes us happy? Some have realised how little they have spent superfluous items during the pandemic when our access to, or need for, these items has been limited. Some may have questioned whether they need to return to that level of spending again.

The thing is, unless we discuss the relationship between money and happiness with our students, we leave them open to being influenced without dialogue. And this is where the negative connotations with money come into play. These can be anything from ‘Money is the root of all evil,’ or ‘I have to make as much money as possible at any cost’ and everything in between.

The average salary in the UK is £38,800

Studies have shown that happiness does not increase beyond a certain point (around £50,000)

But that’s still a lot of money.

The bit that often gets missed out of the discussion is what it allows you to do. Where do the happiest people spend their money? Ask students and they often equate money with buying power. And that makes sense. Money allows you to buy fast cars, nice clothes, wonderful food etc… But it also allows you to do things. Serve others. Create something greater than yourself. And again if we don’t discuss this with our students, they’ll be chasing things that they hope will make them happy rather than experiences that could really change their lives. 

So the slide deck being sent out this week discusses the power of money with our students and the ability to use it in a way that makes us happy.

It introduces them to ideas on minimalism and the growing movement towards it (with a short video). It also uses a video to introduce them to research that suggests money can indeed make you happy, but when you don’t spend it on yourself. 

What if we could get students to not aspire towards money for money’s sake only (which is fine by the way) but also as a tool to ensure experiences that allow them to have more fulfilling lives?

The cost of living

Why our students need to know how much its costs to live in the UK?

According to Revolut the average cost of living in the UK is as follows:

  • £2,249 per month for a single person; and
  • £3,803 per month for a family of four.

This makes the UK the 7th most expensive country Western Europe.

Of course there is an ongoing argument about whether this is a true reflection and what is included in the cost of living in the UK. Are cinema tickets essential? How many TV subscriptions does the average person need?

Throughout my career in education I have run an exercise to help students calculate cost of living based on their expectation. I should highlight here that it is not without its flaws. I am not aware of future inflation rates (which is why I always highlight that inflation will continue to make living costs higher and the importance of minimum wage reflecting this rise in cost of living). However what it does do for students is give them some idea of what things cost and what the life they have dreamed up for themselves costs.

Why do students need to know about cost of living?

Awareness – In order to ensure we are creating a culture of responsible and able citizens that can participate in society and are well informed.

Motivation – Needless to say, many times, when I complete this activity students are left shocked at how much money they would need to earn in order to live the life they want. For many this makes them rethink the career they want to go into and aspire to something more. For some it makes them question whether the life they see on social media and influencers living is actually real.

Expectations – I believe we have a moral responsibility to both encourage our students to dream big and understand the real lay of the land so they are not surprised by life when they leave school but in command of it.

Cost/benefit analysis – Without the cost of living many schools expect students to make important decisions about life – like whether they should go to university or do an apprenticeship. As adults we often have to work backwards from the goal in life to put in actions that will get us there. Why is it any different for our students?

Helping disadvantaged students – The way money is spoken about (if spoken about at all), budgeted, and the purchases prioritised will vary home to home but also whether our students come from a background where parents rely on the government for financial support. The freedom they will have had to make financial decisions will vary as a result. We must ensure that our students, who we want to be active participants in the economy are equipped with the ability to make financial decisions that their parents may not have been able to.

The activity 

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When we get back, the principles of good teaching remain the same.

The panic is starting, I can hear it in the twitter sphere and in clubhouse rooms. The impact of lockdown on student learning and what we need to do to correct it. When what we need is more of what we said we would always do.

The need is too great. To come up with a fancy strategy to overcome a challenge. But the thing is the challenges were always great in teaching. It’s why we joined the profession. To work against the odds and give our students the best possible foundations for their springboard into life. The world has changed, that doesn’t mean that your teaching radically has to.

What I believe our students need when we get back are two key things

  • Routines
  • Focus on learning in the classroom – through a few strategies that you already know about

Don’t panic let’s just focus on good teaching practice.

The principles of good teaching still apply. We need routine, variation, spacing and interleaving. Let’s look at what these might look like when we return.

Routine: There’s no doubt about it our young people will come back having stuck to their normal routines at varying levels, they’ll need us to redraw the lines, explicitly reteach what is and isn’t acceptable, what we will and will not tolerate. What a strong classroom culture looks and feels like and their role in making that a reality as quickly as possible. The key here is to be explicit in our reteaching of routines.

Variation: Just like you, our students have spent a lot of time in front of a screen staring at information you may have presented. Perhaps you got fancy with breakouts and let them discuss things in small groups. But what they really crave is variety and nows the time to try it. Team work, getting them to build on each others’ answers, group discussions to really explore their thoughts with someone other than their cat! How can you switch things up so you don’t rely on a computer screen for your lessons when you get back?

Spacing: It’ll be tempting to reteach and test quickly, but learning requires forgetting. And not just forgetting once. So when planning recall don’t just recall what the students have learnt during the lockdown period but go further back like you normally would to last year and when they were in the classroom.

Interleaving:Yes it’s tempting to revisit what students have learnt at home however as stated above learning requires forgetting. There’s no reason you can’t move forward with the curriculum and put aside small chunks of time each week to revisit previous topics. Even better link them to what the students are learning now and going forward. We learn in stories and the more hooks you can provide to what they know the easier it is for them to remember new information.

None of this is rocket science. None of this is new. You can do this. You have done this. But we need to be brave and stick to what we know works and keep things simple in a time when it will be tempting to recreate the wheel.

What are schools for?

And are we expecting too much from them?

I recently joined Clubhouse the new online social platform which focuses on audio. Essentially it allows you to go into ‘rooms’ hosted by others members to discuss various topics. One such room asked the question ‘Do our schools prepare our children for success?’ and that stopped me in my tracks is that the bar now? Are we being held solely responsible for the future successes of young people? And what do we mean by success? This then led me to ask the question ‘What are schools for?’ Much like the age old debate about the role of the state we find boundaries shifting.

It takes a village – but that village has got a lot smaller.

You may have heard the saying it takes a village to raise a child and that was all fine and well when we lived in tight knit communities where people shared childcare. But now in 2021 the majority of care is given by schools and immediate family. Over time more and more is added to the curriculum to often teach children many of the things they may have learnt in communities, through mentors, peers and role models.

The question is ‘Have we spread ourselves too thin?’ And whilst the government cannot control homes is it over inflating the responsibilities placed on schools because it can? And does that set us up for a fall?

Do we even know what the role of schools is anymore?

Nick Gibb attempted to answer this question in 2015 when addressing the Education Reform Summit. He argued that the purpose was, well broken down into 3 purposes.

Namely these are:

Economic – to ensure our young people have the skills and knowledge to succeed in a demanding economy through an effective and rigorous curriculum. In his speech he focused on Maths and literacy in particular.

Culture – Here he makes the sensible argument that we need to teach young people the basic tenets of the curriculum for them to engage in culture – for instance grasping the language to enjoy poetry and set free our imagination. But then things get a bit fuzzy as he quotes Matthew Arnold and making ‘all men live in an atmosphere of sweetness and light’ before talking about how much the arts have been invested in and the need to break down class barriers.

Preparation for adult life – here he talks about character education and draws on case studies from the KIPP schools in the USA who no doubt do incredible work.

To summarise he argues that schools have ‘Three purposes – empowering young people to succeed in the economy, participate in culture, and leave school prepared for adult life’ – and argues that these have consistently guided the programme of reform by the government.

Let’s take each one of these in turn:

Economic – this is probably the one where most school staff feel most comfortable so I’m not going to discuss it in any great length because this is not a blog post about the curriculum. But at a basic level we all agree that a rigorous curriculum that allows our students to participate in the economy and be positive citizens in it, is something we can all get behind.

Culture – What worries me here is that he seems fine with the assumption that a solid education will allow students to break class barriers. We all know that education can play a huge part but it is not the only factor. For instance I can try and break down class barriers as much as I like by educating students but if mass unemployment is still the norm for parents these class barriers will remain because the economic conditions of many of these young people will not allow them to prosper. Also if we have such a commitment to the arts why are they not core elements of Progress 8 like science English and maths?

Preparation for adult life

There is now very clear evidence that schools can make a significant contribution to their pupils’ achievement by finding opportunities to instil key character traits, including persistence, grit, optimism and curiosity.

I have no doubt the above is true. But I also have no doubt that the home and the character showcased by parents and role models at home play a huge part in students future opportunities. And we can teach these in school but what students need is the ability to practice them in the real world.

Far too often I read reports about the skills young people lack to make them employable. Quite often the feedback is from middle ages business owners  harking on about how the youth of today don’t have what it takes to be employed and they have forgotten what they were like as kids. Its natural, I’m sure you’ve heard your parents say how much better life was 50 or so years ago, yet none of us want to go back there. I have a friend that lives in Yorkshire and was, probably foolishly discussing Brexit with an elderly lady in her 80’s. She like many other people voted for Brexit because she wanted to go back to the good old days. When asked when this was she said the early 80’s. ‘You sure?’ asked my friend, ‘you wanna go back to the miners strikes when we experienced mass unemployment and families struggled to feed their young?’ She then proceeded to hit him with her handbag and told him to stop being so clever. The point I’m trying to make is it is a story as old as time that older generations think that youths of the time are less capable then they were. My experience shows me something completely different. I see young people able to navigate comples social relationships, online and offline, caring about the planet, open minded. What these kids lack is experience in the workplace to put these abilities to use and a chance. Let me ask you would you hire yourself at 16? Or even 18? I asked my husband this question two days ago and his honest response was ‘I don’t think I would have hired me at 22.’ My husband who often manages placement students in their second year of university has to teach them how to write emails, not because schools haven’t taught them how to construct emails but because knowledge without context doesn’t work. They have to know how to address different people in their organisation and that happens in the workplace not in school.

My worry is each time one of these reports come out, education ministers start cracking the whip promising to make qualifications harder, kids more ready for work through a corrected PSHE curriculum. I’m not saying we shouldn’t promote character in the curriculum. I’m saying it can’t sink in with the adjoining help of the community.

So given the above can schools ever fulfil their purpose particularly if the onus is placed on them wholly? My answer is no. We’ve all become too accustomed to pointing the finger at schools rather than acting like a village with schools, parents, local business and the government acting together to form an empowering tribe for our young people.

It takes a village.