Academic v Practical – the glass ceiling effect

Question?… Why is Sir Alex Ferguson, someone who left school at 16 after apparently showing little interest in school now being asked to lecture at places like Harvard and Stanford Business Schools? It’s ironic that Sir Alex never went to University; so why do we have a system which champions academic kids over more practical ones.
There are many  examples of people who struggled in school and went onto achieve amazing things. Take Michelle Mone – one of the UK’s leading entrepreneurs who left school with no qualifications. I am not saying we should champion leaving school without qualifications however there are other ways to achieve success.
Graduate Fashion Week 2012 - Gala Show And Awards

LONDON, ENGLAND – JUNE 13: Michelle Mone attends the Graduate Fashion Week 2012 Gala Show at Earls Court 2 on June 13, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Ben Pruchnie/Getty Images)

When I hear the term academic, it is normally used in the context of describing a person as being ‘academic’ (or not). In a famous TED Talk by Sir Ken Robinson, he talks about two types of people in education – those who are ‘academic’ and those who are ‘not academic’; a system which effectively classes people as  either ‘smart’ or ‘none smart’. He goes onto say the consequence is many brilliant people think they are not.

I completely understand the need for people with an aptitude for STEM subjects; the world needs more scientists and doctors, however to class a young person’s capability based on being academic or not academic is damaging.

Ultimately the term ‘academic’ creates a glass ceiling from an early age.

The big challenge is 43% of young people in the UK leave education without 5 Grade ‘C’ GCSE’s (including Math and English). This is often the minimum entry level to many jobs or to move onto further education. Surely we can’t write off 43% of young people based on their ability to sit a set of exams aged 16.
It would be easy to jump on the bandwagon and blame education. Sure, some schools need to improve, however there are many other reasons for this statistic. For example, what happens if a young person is experiencing an unstable family life or they have low confidence due to bullying or they simply go to piece’s in exams.
I will leave you with a little story of a young person called Alexander who lived on an estate in East London. Alexander left school with one O’level and started life as an apprentice. After a couple of years, he went into St Martins Fashion College to ask about getting onto their Fashion programme and was told that he didn’t have the right qualifications. The thing is, Alexander didn’t give up and went onto win Student of the Year, British Fashion Designer of the Year, Head Designer of Givenchy and Creative Director at Gucci. Not bad for a kid from the East End with one O’Level.  Sadly Alexander McQueen passed away in 2010, however his legacy is far reaching both in the fashion industry and to other young people where traditional education wasn’t right for them.

Alexander McQueen

Post by Jim Clarke

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