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What do you want to be when you grow up: success and targets

My Dad started his working life out as a mechanical engineer, designing gearboxes for Leyland lorries in Preston. He got chartered and by the time he retired he was doing stuff around people management and training people using CAD/CAM systems for IBM. I liked hitting stuff, and loved maths and physics at school, so I was going to be a chartered engineer by 30, designing prosthetics for a living. I did mech eng at uni and did as many materials and medical modelling units as I could. I was absolutely going down that route and that was going to be me ‘successful’.

I failed epically at that one- EPICALLY!

Engineering wasn’t for me in the end and I ended up teaching in Barnsley- I LOVED it and it set me on the pathway I’m on now. Essentially, a fair whack of study, learning and work (and support from Mr Dr Ross) over the last 15 years or so, and I’m not teaching in class but I’m very much working in education. So according to my plans when I was 18ish, I am an utter failure. I achieved nothing I set out to achieve and ended up on a very strange old route.

Does that mean I’m not successful? I’m largely happy and I can pay the mortgage, the small human is fairly civilised and Mr Dr Ross manages to put up with me so I would argue that I’m doing alright.

So then when I read this article by John Rutter about definitions of ‘good’ and ‘successful’, and how only certain trajectories seem to be acceptable in schools, I could not agree more with him! Why should young people be pushed towards certain pathways because that’s what some people in the back rooms of education authorities and departments deem acceptable? Who decides what success is?

I had a look through Mr Rutter’s articles and he is a man who seems to champion young people pursuing their passions and enjoying education, training and subsequently, life. Anecdotally, I have seen a fair few kiddos who would have preferred an apprenticeship-style pathway over a more academic one and Mr Rutter has the same experience.

How many of us who work in education see young people pushed in ways they wouldn’t naturally choose, because of ‘success’ metrics in schools? I would conjecture, quite a few and I know that some of those young people have completely rejected the pathways they thought they should  be on, for ones they wanted to be on in the first place, but not without a lot of upset and stress. It’s not good.

By some measures, I am an utter failure. By others I’m not- I’m lucky to have a good wodge of agency and strop to make my own decisions. Not everyone is.

I honestly think ‘education’ as a structure in much of the occidental (Anglophone) world needs to give its head a wobble sometimes and hold broader measures for success, attainment and progress.

Not everyone ends up what they wanted to be when they grow up, but that doesn’t mean they’ve failed!