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Introduction to Facework

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Tweets@facework

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“What would Richard Branson change if he was the head teacher in this school?”

This is a question I asked recently at a Facework employability training session for children who have been excluded from mainstream school and who felt ‘pushed-out.’

“Is Branson successful because his Virgin companies focus on good customer experience?” I asked. “No”, said one of the students, “It’s because he tries to have fun and do things differently.” Some of the students laughed. As customers in their alternative provision, having fun whilst studying was clearly something they recognised was important.

Asking a question about how a successful business leader like Branson would run their school is a good starting point when helping young people think about the skills, attitudes, flexibility and resilience they will need when they leave school. Indeed many of these young people I talk to are fascinated about what skills are needed to make money. Darren, one of the 14 year old students who had been quiet and withdrawn in one of the recent lesson, suddenly piped up,

“I could be earning £60 a day working with my dad right now, if I wasn’t in this dump. He says he will teach me to be a plasterer and he needs me because he has tons of work on right now.”

For a variety of complex reasons, many of these students taught in Alternative Education feel they have already failed when it comes to education. But just because their experience of mainstream test-prep schooling hasn’t been right for them, it doesn’t mean that they won’t be successful in a nurturing alternative education setting, especially if these centres focus on preparing young people now for the future changing world of work. Indeed I would argue that for many of them starting work earlier could be the best thing for them. To be accepted in a non-academic, real world environment, to grow up with colleagues at different stages and ages, to receive value through a wage, to be given responsibility; all of these things can contribute to a wonderful learning environment, especially if you need to escape from a chaotic home life. It’s just a pity that most schools don’t have the staff or space in the curriculum to help give these students a clear line of sight to work, nor really value the enormous benefit that experiencing work and connecting students to work whilst at school can give a pushed-out learner.

Recent research produced by the Employment and Education Task force, showed that 14-16 year olds from all backgrounds, could be earning an additional £2,000 by their mid-20s simply through greater exposure to the world of work through career talks at school and engagement with employers .
However few schools prioritise this interaction and even the work-experience placement is not mandatory anymore. Indeed those schools which do offer it often have to rely on parents to find the placements. What does that tell us about ‘who you know’ as you climb the rungs of the social mobility ladder? Just imagine asking your parents to find a placement for you if your parents themselves are unemployed. Even the number of 16-17 year olds combining work with full-time education has been decreasing steadily since 1998 when around 40% of students did a Saturday job. Today, numbers of young people engaged in part-time work has dropped to 23.7% of girls and only 13.4% for boys.

If young people aren’t earning while they are learning, get taught vital employability skills or receive effective career counseling at school anymore, where do they gain the valuable soft-skills needed for the hard challenges in the changing world of work? And these changes are going to be particularly hard for those who aren’t in the ‘sharing’ or ‘gig’ economy. When you don’t live in an Airbnb rentable house, when you don’t have a car to Uber, where your once prized manual labour skills are only valuable down the gym. This will be the future pattern for freelancers in this generation, especially as they will have to earn into their 70s!

In 1964 a committee of scientists and social activists sent an open letter to President Lyndon B. Johnson arguing that

“the cybernation revolution” would create “a separate nation of the poor, the unskilled, the jobless,” who would be unable either to find work or to afford life’s necessities

Like many commentators before and after, they were perhaps in danger of over-exaggerating the short-term impact but underestimating the long-term impact of technology. But the long-term is now upon us and by the time these young people are in their mid-30s the world of work will be at a ‘tipping point’. Computers and automation replacing boring, repetitive and easily learned jobs, driver-less cars and delivery drones replacing white van man and globalisation eroding the bargaining power for many workers – especially those in low paid jobs today. So could we be in danger of creating “a separate nation of the poor” within work, as we have already done so in the world of education? Will we see young people already pushed out of education, pushed out of the workplace too? Will we witness the biggest growth in inequality since the industrial revolution?

Whilst it is excellent for the Government to prioritise STEM subjects and higher academic standards for those who are academically gifted, we do not see the equivalent investment of money or ideas in the Alternative School sector where teachers do sterling work re-booting aspirations and inspiring those who struggle with mainstream schools. These are the ones who will need to rely even more heavily on soft skills, such as imagination, the ability to apply knowledge to novel or varied contexts, resilience and flexibility to handle the unexpected and adapt within changing teams.

You see whilst most people would agree with Peggy Klaus, an expert in workplace development who says,

“Soft skills get little respect but they will make or break your career,”

few have answers for how we help pushed-out young people (many with behaviour issues, low levels of self-esteem and special needs) acquire and demonstrate these skills. Many of these young people will have to compete with peers who have better qualifications, self-confidence, certainly a stronger sense of entitlement and -importantly – better networks and links with those in work. So how can we help them ‘leap-frog’ their way over further formal education and into successful work environments?

Given no-one to date has come up with the answer let alone a model, you could do a lot worse than ask the young people themselves to try to codify and interpret what these skills look like to them. And that’s exactly what the Facework project aims to do. With funding from Nominet Trust and the Inclusion Trust we worked with 70 students from 6 PRUs over a 2 year period, focusing on de-mystifying what these soft-skills looked like and finding out how young people can gain positive attitudes and mental toughness whilst in school so that they were better prepared for work. The results are a creative, co-designed curriculum of 25 challenges grouped in families of 5 core STEPS skills:

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The students helped us come up with the 25 practical ‘ing’ activities; things employers wanted you to be able to do and which you could demonstrate practically. Things like being good at admitting mistakes, (not easy when you’ve been told your whole life has been one!) spotting problems, handling emotions, managing time and using initiative. Instead of ‘worksheets’ we created Challenges; instead of far-off inspirational stories we filmed local young people giving advice to their peers and getting students to rate their mates’ skills. Instead of banning social media we collected over 150 examples of apps, films, adverts, songs, quotes all available via social media which can help bring these vital soft-skills to life. These are now all freely available on the facework website, and are cross-mapped to the OCR Employability and Life & Living accreditation which means that schools now have an alternative youth-created curriculum which can lead to a qualification.

Creating these resources within the STEPS framework took time and patience and involved deep learning for both the team and students. But as well as the end product (the learning resources) there are some important lessons that emerged from the process and methodology we used. There is no ‘silver bullet’ but rather simple approaches which teachers use instinctively in all their education and which can be transferred to employability training. These 5 principles are relevant to educators, employers, and government alike, especially if we have a vision for employability as more than just helping the next generation succeed in earning a living, but rather imagine a world where the work they do gives them real value and self-worth, creating greater equality in our society and supporting cultural cohesion.

1) You cannot teach employability without a deep empathetic understanding of young people and the challenges they face.
Whatever you are born with is normal, and the world children are growing up in, and the one they will start work in, is very different to the world we grew up in. Many of the young people I work with are anxious about their futures, their ability to one day own their own home and their ability to stay in regular employment. Validating the soft skills they use every day in social media, as they organise, negotiate, multi-task, upload, publish and create online. Showing how these existing skills can be refined and transferred to a work context helps give a young person confidence. In trying to help a young person it is easy to suggest a mentor. But don’t give a young person a mentor, get them to choose their own. For a start they will have more ownership and it’s harder for a mentor to say no to a child!

2) Every young person has worth and potential and whilst qualifications are important, they are not the things which ultimately define us.
Many successful leaders in many different sectors of society left school with little or no qualifications and we need to recognise that for many students they will only be ready to learn when they have grown up and had some first-hand experience of proving that they are a success. Indeed why would you want to spend money (and lack of earning time) studying in your early 20s if you are going to be working till you are 70? Employability sessions need to focus on helping young people find what Ken Robinson terms, their ‘element’. How you help children discover this ‘element’ varies from child to child but helping students identify good questions before settling on answers is a positive starting point. Indeed there are no wrong questions and if you can teach young people the power of asking good questions, especially to people who are in work, you introduce them to a network and possibly an insight into work which helps spark this element into life. As Socrates said, “Education is the kindling of a flame, not the filling of a vessel.”

3) Peer learning is key for helping young people acquire soft-skills.
If these soft skills are viewed as informal and hard to measure, then why not use informal creative ways to demonstrate them and instil them in others? The most effective lessons we delivered when developing Facework was when we took young people from one Alternative school to another school to run the employability session. Throwing them in the deep end and asking them to run a discussion about work, or sharing from their own experience of work radically helped change their mind-set. We extended this by using phones to record their advice to their peers. ‘Teach once, learn twice’ principles came to life and suddenly both those young people doing the teaching, and those adults doing the learning grew. For many of the students the actual activity of travelling to another school in another part of the country opened up a whole new world of discovery. See earlier Huffington Post article on this journey of learning here.

4) Bringing the real-world of work into the classroom can make a profound impact.
Many of the young people I worked with are kinaesthetic learners and need experience in using their hands and exhibiting their skills. Many schools are seeing the value of the ‘exhibition’ as part of project-based learning activities and running ‘high-stake’ activities such as a pop-up café, shop or nail bar where students interact directly with members of the public can transform a child’s understanding of work. One Alternative School I worked in recently was beginning to get their students to run a large car boot sale within their playground. The practical skills used in running this – to say nothing of the value of parental engagement – could be phenomenal. But there are other ways to bring work into the classroom. Could well-known coffee outlets donate an old coffee machine to all the Alternative Provision Schools and start running Barista training courses for students within school? When I have run Barista training with young people it has been one of the most impactful days of their lives, giving them experience and a foot in to a potential ‘gateway’ job in the hospitality industry.

5) Schools are already places of work
Students are already picking up important messages about work from within the school and there would be opportunities for sharing the work and helping students prepare for work once they leave. Schools often employ local parents, so why can’t they also employ a student caretaker to shadow the school caretaker and receive a wage? Why, when repairs need to be done in schools, can’t companies run by parents of children in the school be given preference in pitching for this work? Why can’t schools better use their alumni to help students with transition into work? Why can’t students be given opportunities to run juice bars, produce business cards, take care of school grounds etc?

Embedding paid work and teaching entrepreneurial skills within Alternative Provision is the next step for the Facework project but it will make only a small impact if we don’t see a radical re-modelling of the curriculum as a whole. We need leaders who can embed employability within the curriculum from the start. Lead their schools in collaborating with those outside education and engage students in real world challenges which give a framework for what they are learning. This employability prism gives relevancy, and helps a learner become motivated to learn core skills of reading, maths, coding and the wider soft-skills which I now call employment Intelligences.

So we end where we began, could entrepreneurs such as Richard Branson and the Virgin Group branch out into yet another industry and help us re-imagine alternative schools. After all, Richard Branson himself had first-hand experience of struggling in school and left education with no qualifications. If he can rescue our banks, make our trains run on time and start tourism in space perhaps it is time for him and others closer to home to re-imagine a new work-school model.

Follow Stephen Carrick-Davies on Twitter: Huffington Post article on Facework

Shine bright like a diamond | By Sarah Marquet

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Introduction to Facework

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Tweets@facework

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Some of my best friends are teachers; gifted, experienced practitioners who have dedicated their lives to nurturing and curating the slow unfurling of learning in early minds. Every day they have the chance to perform miracles and transform a child’s future and understanding of the world. As Socrates reminded us all those years ago “a mind is not simply a vessel to be filled, but a fire to be kindled.” It takes extraordinary skill to be a professional fire starter these days.

See more Huffington Post article on Facework

It’s good to be right about being wrong

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Introduction to Facework

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Tweets@facework

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Inclusion Trust_What Now For Pushed Out Learners

A report from the Inclusion Trust looking at the current state of alternative education provision.

 

The alternative shouldn't be inferior (2)Download What Now For Pushed Out Learners report

Download PRESS RELEASE Our most vulnerable young people

See BBC news article about the report here

See TES news article about the report here

Pushed out learners

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Introduction to Facework

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Stephen Carrick-Davies shares lessons learnt from the Nominet funded ‘Facework’ project.

What’s my line? I’m happy cleaning windows
Take my time, I’ll see you when my love grows
Baby don’t let it slide, I’m a working man in my prime
Cleaning windows”
Cleaning Windows by Van Morrison.

Last week I met a window cleaner.

He was wiping the smears off a grimy glass door in a busy railway station. As people barged by and rushed for their departing trains, he remained calm and focused on the task at hand, exhibiting a remarkable pride in his job. I watched him for a while before summing up the courage to talk to him. “I have to do all the windows in this station once every 3 -4 weeks”, he told me. “To be honest, I enjoy my job. I used to manage window cleaners, now I’ve gone back to just doing it myself. No stress, just pride and a real sense of achievement every day.”

The circumstance of this encounter was that I was travelling with three work placement students from London en route to running a session with other students in a Pupil Referral Unit in Bedford. “Would it be OK if my students asked you some questions about your work?” I had asked. He seemed surprised that anyone would be interested in his work but agreed and before long, Lucas and Omar (two of the students with me) were deep in conversation with him. “How did you get into this work? How much do you get paid an hour? What skills do you need to do your job? What did you want to do when you left school?”

It turned out that Roger had come from a similar environment from which these students had come. He had been thrown out of school, left with no qualifications and had drifted into a range of jobs and environments (not all of them very healthy). As he shared his life story with the students I could see in their faces that something was clicking. They must have talked for 15 minutes and could have kept talking had our train not come into the station. As we settled into our seats I asked the students, “What did you learn from that guy?” It soon became obvious that it had been the most effective part of the whole day’s learning. Why?

Learning can be like that. Sometimes it comes from unexpected sources, sometimes you realise you’ve learnt something pretty important from the most informal of settings. Sometimes your best laid work-sheets and lesson plans seem pointless.

Everywhere we look people are tweeting and uploading, sharing and using vanity tools on their mobiles to express how much they like others’ conversations. But in this age of constant communication, how much of our work as teachers involves helping students to recognise the often profound learning which comes from everyday face-to-face encounters? With understandable concern about the risk of young children talking to strangers on the internet, are we in danger of air-bagging older children and failing to prepare them to have the confidence to talk face-to- face to strangers they encounter every day ? Mark Twain’s words many years ago “Let us make a special effort to stop communicating with each other, so we can have some conversation.” are perhaps more apt today than ever before.

The window-cleaner conversation was just one conservation I have had with the students over the last few months as I have embarked on a project to help disaffected, marginalised young people gain a better insight into the ‘world of work’. Working with the Inclusion Trust we are passionate about developing a new curriculum to help steer marginalised young people into work before they become NEETs. (Not in Education, Employment or Training).

Indeed what makes this project special is that from the outset we are co-designing the project with students from the target audience. Funded by Nominet Trust, we want to provide real alternative work-related learning activities – including using social media, apps and filmmaking to create a more accessible digital CV and ‘vault’ for these students, many of whom lack the qualifications, motivation, confidence or real insight into how to go about getting into work.

Since September 2012, schools have been legally responsible for securing access to independent and impartial careers guidance for all their students in Years 9 to 11. However, according to the latest Ofsted inspection into careers guidance for schools, only one in five schools are effective in ensuring that all their students in Years 9, 10 and 11 are receiving the level of information, advice and guidance they need to support decision-making. Furthermore the report states that “Not enough of the schools visited worked well with local authorities to support their more vulnerable students in making choices, including those who had special educational needs or who were disabled. Most of the work focused on ensuring that support was available for vulnerable students after they left Year 11. Very few of the vulnerable young people interviewed were clear about how different career pathways could help them to achieve their potential”.

As an employer in my own right, I have had students do their work experience and 2 week placement in my premises, and have seen how even the most committed and motivated children find the transmission into work daunting. How much more so is it for someone who has very low levels of literacy, a special need or really struggles to overcome their past abuse or trauma? In the group I had last week, there were two teenage pregnant mums, a boy with significant ADHD and two students who had zero confidence and self-esteem. There are no quick and easy solutions, but we are already recognising a number of very simple, yet important issues.

The first one which any teacher will tell you is that students often learn better from their peers and real-life experiences than a teacher giving theoretical or abstract advice. It can be hard enough getting confident students to lead or run a lesson, but we have belief in the young people we are working with and have rather ambitiously set up a ‘relay race’ of students who have undertaken the first workshop to then help us run the next with the next new cohort. Teaching in a PRU can be challenging and students can be brutal to external staff coming in to run a session. However when the trainer is accompanied by other students who are living proof that there is something to be gained , they became receptive, interested, and eager to engage if only because of the presence of other student visitors.

Secondly, harnessing technology to get students to express and ‘unlock’ their understanding of themselves and their skills is beginning to have significant positive results. Last week we videoed a year 10 student in front of a car with its bonnet up, talking about his love of car engines and why he wanted – despite having no qualifications – to be given a chance to be a mechanic. This will form part of his soon to be completed digital CV and this film may end up being the one thing which opens a door with an employer to give him a chance. Working with another student to describe herself in a word Cloud had a similar effect. She started to smile, as perhaps for the first time she was able to see a screen come alive with 10 key personal skills and qualities. The trick now is to build on these and focus on qualifications and experiences which will let her exhibit these in the child-care industry.

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There are no silver bullet answers in helping marginalised young people find a job and we are certainly not claiming that the digital tools and applications we are building for the Facework digital CV project will somehow miraculously empower marginalised young people to get a job straight away. It would be irresponsible of us to allow them to believe that this will be the case. Nevertheless if learning is to be relevant to the new ‘swipe screen’ generation who ever increasingly inhabit and interact on portable, digital platforms, schools need to model new forms of technology and ask the learner to devise their own ways of expressing and capturing the learning which is taking place. These tools are changing every aspect of our society and we need to better help students use the tools to leap across the divide between school and work.

The final thing we are learning comes back to conversations. When you ask many students want they want to do these days, many reply “Something which makes me famous”. It’s hard to be famous as a window cleaner, but having spoken to Roger last week I bet there wasn’t a happier man on the platform that day. Perhaps one simple thing this project can help schools to do is to help ‘earth’ job-related learning activities into real conversations with real workers and then use technology to link people up as online mentors. Helping a student to have the confidence to ask a stranger a positive question about what they are doing is hard, especially because so many young people are often asked that very same question in a hostile way with the implication that they should ‘move on’.

One of the most important things we can do as teachers is to help students have the confidence to start a conversation, asking the right questions. As I left Roger he asked for my card. The very next day he sent me a text asking me if he could come into the PRU and help the kids more. “I’d love to give something back to these kids” he said. And we are arranging this. Perhaps the most radical thing about the project is allowing the window cleaner to become the teacher, the students the ‘bridge’ and the teachers the learners!

“Better keep yourself clean and bright; you are the window through which you must see the world.” George Bernard Shaw

Recalibrating the Machine

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Introduction to Facework

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Tweets@facework

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Last week a young person told me his boss was a bully. “He kept getting on my back, telling me I was late and making me do things” he explained. “Were you late?”  I asked.  “Yeah sometimes.”  I listened and then asked sensitively, “So does that make him a bully?  Isn’t that what bosses are supposed to do?”  There was an awkward silence.

Most good employers realise that they have to “recruit for attitude but train for skill.” However, I would argue that good employers today have to “re-boot” attitude and also help young people discover their skills. You see, there seems to be a growing disconnect between young people’s dreams and aspirations of a successful career, best epitomised with the desire of many to “just become famous!”  and, the harsh reality of needing to get a job, any job even if the boss is so bossy they are perceived, rightly or wrongly, as a bully. The recent National Careers Council report ‘Aspirational Nation’ reflects on this mismatch between career aspirations and the reality of jobs on the market, stating that young people need to be far more resilient to face the challenges and uncertainties of the current labour market and that they need better career management and digital literacy skills to achieve sustained employability.

Employers are becoming key in this ‘bridging’ in part because many schools are unable to provide this career management advice.  Since September 2012 schools have been legally responsible for providing independent and impartial career guidance, but as the recent Ofsted report noted, they “must do better!”  And all this against the backdrop that increasing numbers of young people come from homes where there are poor perceptions of work, where parents – if they are working at all – are in low paid, exhausting and unrewarding jobs, many on zero-hour contracts, and living on a tightrope between earning a salary and claiming working tax credits. Is it any wonder that many marginalised young people are excluded not just from work, but from the language and culture of work?

The Facework project being developed by the Inclusion Trust is seeking to develop a radical new approach to work-related learning especially for organisations working with marginalised young people. We’ve undertaken surveys, run focus groups with students and, with funding from Nominet Trust, are now working with these young people and staff in co-authoring new digital work-related learning resources. However, long before any website is launched we’ve identified three crucial challenges which need examining:   

Firstly, ‘soft’, unquantifiable skills are as important to validate as ‘hard’-measurable skills.

All young people need opportunities to show they have skills and unique qualities.  For most children these are nurtured informally in the home.  But for others growing up with an absence of supportive adults in their lives and who have been constantly told that they are a failure, it’s especially vital.  Many of the young people I work with have extraordinary skills and gifts, but they have become so hard-wired to the negative battery terminal of life that they can’t feel the positive or accept praise. They shy away from areas and environments which amplify shame or public failure, including an education system which is predicated on achievement and reward for success. They are masters of protecting themselves from failing yet again, even if this involves blaming others.

The more our education sector prioritises qualifications and league tables, over and above programmes which help inspire and build young people’s character, resilience,  self-esteem, empathy and wellbeing, the more we as a society will judge people on what they earn,  not on what they are worth. 

Schools must do more to help young people understand the soft skills and attitudes that employers want; skills such as self-management and accepting responsibility, team-working and initiative, customer awareness , problem-solving and working under pressure,  good communication skills.   The irony is that young people are demonstrating and celebrating these skills informally via social media every day, but schools must do more to embed these skills and attitudes.  When did you last hear a teacher say “Today’s lesson is on how to keep a customer happy when the cappuccino machine has broken?” 

Secondly, for many marginalised young learners the most effective learning takes place outside of the classroom. 

If work is a rite of passage to citizenship, then surely we should allow those who provide that passage to take more responsibility in shaping and if necessary “re-booting” young people’s attitudes to work. This is especially important for vulnerable and marginalised young people where even alternative schools like PRUs are, I believe the wrong place for them to learn.  Employers can do things which schools can’t.  We need employers who will commit to young people who struggle to be taught, showing them that through example and good mentoring, attitudes can be caught. 

Most people can still remember the feeling of receiving their first wage packet: We must never underestimate this emotional learning currency for a young person. Teachers already know that when you get lost in what you love doing and are rewarded for it, you forget that you are learning. 

Thirdly, helping a young person get a job has to first involve helping them how to develop good relationships.

It’s easy for employers to criticise young people and argue that they don’t have the skills they need in the workplace because they can’t communicate. However it is our failure too. Very few of us employers properly understand and empathise with those young people who have had to overcome trauma and abusive home environments. We don’t know their language, they don’t know ours, and currently our education system is lost in its role as translator.

As we have developed the Facework project we believe that young people need at least 40 in-depth conversations with people in work to really understand what work is like.  Small employers have a vital role to play; they are the ones creating the new jobs, they have greater flexibility and are embedded within communities. Like all of us, they know all about the importance of economic growth, but in supporting young people they witness first-hand social growth; that is learning worth recognising, that is change worth celebrating. 

Stephen Carrick-Davies is a freelance trainer, employer and Social Entrepreneur and is currently working with The Inclusion Trust on pioneering the Facework project.  http://www.inclusiontrust.org.uk/facework/