Home Page ONE Haverhill is delivering in a vital area of training 07/03/14

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Hart of the Matter

Having had the odd moment of whimsy at the expense of ONE Haverhill, it is only fair that I should pay tribute to the organisation’s successes and this week saw a major milestone when they announced 15 new apprenticeships set up in Haverhill.


This was as a result of the board’s move to make youth provision one of its priorities and the subsequent appointment of a youth skills manager for the town, who has done all the hard work. In fact, their target in the first six months was ten, and they’ve achieved 15.


My father was a training officer in the engineering industry and, towards the end of his working life, I used to regularly hear him bemoan the reduction in apprenticeships available because he reckoned they were the best way in for young people.


In fact they had almost disappeared until relatively recently and, like so many things, appear to have been ‘rediscovered’ when, actually, the problem was the idiots who got rid of them in the first place.


It was all part of the cyclical fashions in all forms of education and training which see successive generations failed by people who think they can reinvent the wheel. A one-size-fits-all attitude is never going to work in education.


Some people are academic and some people are practical, it’s as simple as that, and the only problem in the past has been the different attitudes taken to these two qualities, which have led to each side trying to force everyone into the same box.


After the war it was all academic focus and those who had more practical skills were condemned by the eleven plus to a sort of second-class education, from which it was difficult to extricate oneself.


Then came the 1960s and comprehensive education, where everyone had to be forced into the same compartments. When this began to fail, the emphasis moved almost entirely to vocational training and the bright kids were abandoned in a sea of mediocrity.


Then along came a generation of educationalists who, mostly having come from a public or grammar school background, were intent on ‘raising standards’ by means of testing and league tables.


This was followed by a Government with a stated intention of getting 50 per cent of the population to go to university. It didn’t take a statistical genius to realise that the only way that could ever be achieved was if the entrance requirements for a university education were lowered to the middle point of national achievement levels.


So A level marking became the subject of much speculation. The latest incumbent at the Department for Education seems to be on the side of the academics, so it is even more vital that skills and practical abilities are given an equally high status.


Not that it’s necessarily a bad thing to be pushing the academic side of education. Vocational training may fit you more efficiently to earn a living, but it doesn’t necessarily set you up to get the best out of life.


These pointless league tables tell you nothing whatever about how well a school is preparing its pupils to cope with the bigger picture – about social interaction, about family life, about leisure activity and about culture.


Neither do they tell you how prepared the pupils are for the highly competitive and abrasive world of work. This is where apprenticeships come in. They are not just work experience, because they are proper jobs with proper pay, but including training as well.


At the ONE Haverhill launch of their programme to expand the scheme this week we heard about how effective and useful the apprentices have been to the businesses which have agreed to take them on.


One other crucial point was made about this programme, and that was very specific to Haverhill. The programme aims to keep skilled young people in the town. The problem is that far too many leave.


This is partly in the nature of things, and partly because some young people have rather a low opinion of their home town and can’t wait to get away – probably to another town which contains young people who can’t wait to get away from there and come here.


But there is another issue – transport. With public transport being so primitive, almost non-existent at times, in Haverhill, it is actually quite difficult, and costly, for young people to get the skills and training they require in anything but the jobs catered for in the town which, naturally enough, is not the complete range.


In several areas they would be in a very competitive market, as across the whole of eastern England, where migrant workers have brought a whole new dimension to the labour force. Anyone who tried to raise that issue seriously at a political level in Haverhill is likely to come a cropper because of the town’s history.


It amuses me to see the residents of various towns complaining they have been inundated by people from another culture and no longer recognise their home town. Welcome to Haverhill in the 1950s and 60s, I think.


That is exactly what happened here, at the time of London overspill expansion, to the town’s indigenous population – in so far as anyone in Britain can be said to be indigenous – but they have worked through it, and now the community pulls together as one.


And if you think Londoners then were not as foreign as Eastern Europeans are now, you should think again, or ask an old Haverhillian – or watch that old Man Alive documentary.


In the end it will be skills and education which count, in a world where people may be having to change jobs every year or two, and ONE Haverhill could not find a better area to spend its efforts.

David Hart
David Hart revives his personal take on the week in Haverhill, covering everything from major town developments to what we do with our rubbish.
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