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  • Growing together: Why our new parent community matters

    by Jennifer Rosenthal

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    When we think about big organizations or brands like Coca-Cola, Disney, Chase or Nike, we typically recall a particular product, affiliated celebrity, news story, or experience we’ve had with that company. What we don’t think about – or at least I don’t often think about – are the people who form the backbone of that company.

    I’ve had the pleasure of meeting and working with many people across Pearson. Kendra is a Diversity & Inclusion expert with an adorable yellow lab and supportive husband in Massachusetts. Diane is a Pearson Enrollment Advisor and an unbelievable single-mom who has an impressive knack for editing home videos. And, Tom is a Science Specialist who has appeared on several local-Florida news channels with his son and husband to champion LGBT rights. We are a company of incredibly diverse individuals who are personally connected and dedicated to children and education. Most of us are parents, caregivers, and/or parent advocates.

    That’s why we are so excited to launch Pearson’s third global Employee Resource Group (ERG): Pearson Parents! An ERG is an internal, employee-driven interest group that unites us behind shared business and social impact goals. The new Pearson Parents ERG follows on from our Women in Learning and Leadership ERG, and Spectrum, our LGBTQI and Allies ERG. Why, might you ask, is this an important initiative for Pearson?

    We believe that parents and caregivers are children’s first and most important teachers. As a learning company, it’s crucial that we empower parents as they navigate their children’s educational journey—this includes supporting the parents and caregivers who work at Pearson.

    The Pearson Parents ERG provides us with an internal network to make connections, exchange ideas and learn from one another. We are real people with deep ties to the local communities our families live in. We can discuss which topics are important to people in our networks. We can strategize about how we, as a company, can be more open and transparent about the work we do. And, we can think through what resources or information to provide to the public.

    In an increasingly global economy, it is also important that we are sensitive and understanding to the diverse needs of learners. We have colleagues all over the world - 40,000 of us in 70 countries - so sharing our unique cultures and experiences will help to inform the work we do.

    Our ultimate goal is to facilitate a meaningful, open dialogue between Pearson and the wider parent community. As the Pearson Parents’ community grows, we will continue to focus on kids and learning, while maintaining our commitment to support and advocate for parents and caregivers, both at Pearson and around the world.

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    Jenn looks after our parents' community in North America. Connect with her on Twitter: @Jenn_Rosenthal

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  • Parallel tracks

    by Rod Bristow

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    There’s nothing new in young people and their parents wanting to know what it takes to get ahead after they leave formal education. What are the things they’ll need for that first step on the job ladder, and to keep climbing up; and how and where do you get them? These are the questions that every generation concerns itself with.

    Neither is there anything new in employers being clear about the sort of young people they’re looking for - a healthy attitude, great workplace skills, a bit of know-how under your belt - the basic building blocks of career advice haven’t really changed all that much.

    But the world is now moving so fast that we cannot rely on the things we’ve always just accepted. The technological revolution has gone far beyond a short, sharp, spike in the timeline of history. It’s a way of life, where the things we don’t know and can’t do today become the everyday occurrences of everyone’s tomorrow. A world where political borders mean less and less, as ideas and people travel ever more freely about. Where barriers to entry tumble, and competition races for the best jobs and the best people. In this 21st century world that values not just what you know, but also what you can do, keeping yourself relevant has never been more challenging.

    Against this backdrop we’ve been working with the CBI in the UK to look more closely at what employers there look for in the young people leaving education and heading into the world of work. And we’ve discovered a vivid picture, where a list of exams passed and grades achieved is no longer the only passport to moving on and up. Attitudes and character (85%) now ranks well ahead of qualifications (39%) or academic results (31%) as the most important factors when recruiting.

    But it seems that when businesses look to these ‘new’ measures of suitability, they become worried.

    The survey of 310 UK companies, which together employ over a million people, reveals that more than half (55%) think they won’t be able to find enough workers with the skills they need; 39% are currently concerned by the attitudes of school and college leavers to work, and 61% are not satisfied by young people’s self-management and resilience.

    It is overwhelmingly clear from the research that employers are looking for education to do a better job at preparing young people for the workplace - to turn out better communicators, team-workers, leaders, never-giver-uppers. But there is also concern about getting the basics right too; that there are too many school leavers unable to do the fundamentals of reading, writing and counting well enough. Nor do businesses think that young people have a necessary awareness of the world outside their school gates - half of firms want this as a priority in schools for 14-18 year olds. The upshot is that close to a third (31%) of firms point to having had to organise remedial training in core skills for some school/college leavers.

    This is not a lone struggle being fought by businesses. I do not know anyone alive who does not want to see schools everywhere work as well as possible for preparing young people for their futures. In separate research we found that - globally - increasing career skills is the top priority for parents and students, and scored very highly among teachers too.

    Nor should people read the survey and jump to some knee-jerk conclusion that UK schools aren’t working. Hundreds of thousands of young people leave schools every year, ready and able to flourish. Happy, too! We need to continue cherishing the things that so many schools and teachers ignite in young people every day, around the world - a natural human curiosity for knowledge, and a love of learning, literature, and the arts.

    Rather, the message here is about creating an environment where communication, teamwork, grit, and leadership skills are nurtured throughout education systems. Getting this balance of skills should matter to anyone who is a parent, a teacher, an employer, or just cares about what happens next to our world.

    One of my favourite things about my role at Pearson is meeting students who are studying our BTEC qualifications. There is something about the blend of academic and practical skills that gives them something extra. Students like Mohammed. School never really ignited his passions until he took a BTEC in sports science at his local college. In his own words the qualification was about “doing something you’re incredibly passionate about… and being the best person you can be”. Every year thousands of students study BTECs. Through their own dedication, their brilliant teachers, and the involvement of businesses in shaping what they learn and providing work placement opportunities, they’ll succeed. Just like Mohammed, who is now a coach at Chelsea Football Club. Or the quarter of UK university undergraduates who go there brandishing their BTECs. Within a few years that’ll likely be one in three new undergraduates. And from higher education we know they progress into good jobs, because they leave armed with those skills employers need.

    The findings of this latest survey are one side of the story here. Equally important is the exercise itself, of trying to align the hopes and needs of business and schools. The evidence seems to say that, for too long now, these two worlds - education and employability - are diverging, if not in aspiration then in the way they see those aspirations being achieved. It’s a relationship that we need to celebrate and encourage to grow; that we need to get running on parallel tracks. But tracks that also criss and cross; where the vocational and the academic blend, and where a multitude of destinations can be reached in a multitude of ways.

    Nearly two-thirds of the businesses we surveyed said they would be willing to play a greater role in supporting careers provisions in schools and colleges. That’s a good place to kick on from, together.

     

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    Read the full report >>

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  • The extraordinary in the everyday

    by Rod Bristow

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    In the east end of London, the name of Richard Cloudesley rings loud. By all accounts a man of modest achievement, the school to which he gave his name is anything but. His life is a story that bridges 15th and 16th century England; his legacy is of a place that bridges gaps in the here and now - the gap between a childhood and the fulfilment of potential.

    For most people, education is that bridge, yet around the world it’s a crossing that’s denied to too many. Disabled children are too often those who get left behind, a gap made bigger by the perception of inability more than the fact of it. It’s a perception that teachers at Richard Cloudesley School have been mocking for over 100 years. Today, we’re celebrating just one of them.

    As I arrive at Richard Cloudesley, I am struck by its open and friendly modernity. The school moved sites a few years ago, to its new home, with space, light and high technology. As the front doors open, motorised wheelchairs and walking aids line the large lobby. I spy a child using an eye gaze keyboard to communicate. There’s something futuristic about this place.

    Underneath these visible signs of progress, there's a driving force. Every child here is deeply cared about, but there’s more. Sean, the headteacher, describes it as “making sure nobody falls off the cliff.” He talks about making sure that children who come to schools like Richard Cloudesley - children with significant physical disabilities - have somewhere to progress to after their school years, and are not simply resigned to a life at home or in care.

    They’re leaving few stones unturned in that pursuit. The complex needs of their students require a complete view of their welfare. So alongside the teaching staff, the school employs a specialist dietician, a medical team, psychologists, social care workers and counsellors. This is an operation to rival many top flight football clubs.

    Sean is clearly very proud of the whole team, but none more than Joanna Ross, who is being presented with a national teaching award. “We’re all very excited, but I think she’ll be embarrassed by it all,” says Sean. Joanna has been with the school since 2004, working with their youngest students, and judging  by the turnout of parents and carers, present and past, her award is richly deserved.

    I’m ushered into a specially arranged assembly. I look around for my colleague, Dominic, who I arrived with but now seem to have lost. I spot him in the front row, chatting to a young pupil. “This is Faith”, Dominic says, as he introduces her. “She’s been looking after me. She wants us to have the best view.” Faith is small for her 11 years, but there’s no lack of stature.

    “Tell him about Mango Man,” Dominic asks her. I lean in to hear, as her voice struggles to keep up with everything she has to say. Mango Man is the superhero comic story she’s been busy writing. Half man, half mango… by all accounts it’s quite a tale. Everyone at the school seems to know about Mango Man… and know about Faith. That evening she’s due to fly to the Ukraine for treatment, a journey she makes several times a year. “I’m scared of flying,” says Dominic. She looks silently straight at him with a crystal-clear incredulity, like he’s just admitted to being scared of fresh air. I can’t imagine anything ever fazes Faith.

    “We’re here to celebrate someone very special,” announces Sean as he kicks the assembly into life. “Though, all our teachers are incredible here, aren’t they?” Young hands go up and faces light up. One by one, each student gets to have their say. “They’re kind”; “They give us homework”; “They teach me how to do things”. Sean looks around the room. “Has everyone’s voice been heard?” he asks. Samuel’s has not. So everyone waits. There is no sense that anyone is in a rush. Samuel stares at his carer; “Hugs” comes the translation. I was watching her interaction with Samuel, and I couldn’t see how she worked that out; and then I wondered, just who is the one here lacking in communication skills?

    In the preceding weeks, pupils, parents and teachers have been asked why they think Joanna deserves the award, and their thoughts are now presented back to them on a big screen. It’s in keeping with the day, but it’s also an exercise that answers the ‘purposeful writing and shared reading’ requirements of the national curriculum. Education is squeezed into every experience here.

    We are asked to read the quotations aloud together. They are brimming with the stuff of role models - ‘amazing’, ‘inspirational’, ‘special’, ‘fun’. But I’m struck by one particular quote: “Every teacher training course needs a Joanna.”

    And then it’s Joanna’s turn to speak. “This is really about all of you; and everything I’ve learned about you and from you.” And as if to prove it, she walks around and makes sure all the pupils get their chance to touch the award.

    Richard Cloudesley is a shining example of why no child should ever accept a limit. But having the humility to acknowledge your limits is important. At Pearson, we do a lot in education. But we never lose sight of our place. That whatever we do, however well we do it, pales into insignificance against the impact of teachers. That the frontline of education - that place where a teacher and student come together, will always be where the most extraordinary things happen, every day.

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    The Pearson UK Teaching Awards began in 1999 as a way for anyone to say “thank you” to the teacher who has helped them most. This year they attracted over 7,000 nominations. Learn more at http://www.pearsonteachingawards.com/.

    And read more about Richard Cloudesley School - http://www.cloudesley.islington.sch.uk/

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  • A parent's legacy - a journey in education

    by Elizabeth Goueti

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    Haiti should be a paradise on Earth. Tropical air breathes down from its mountains, rustling the chorus of coconut palms into a gentle surrender of their harvest. Its bountiful coastline offers up a gallery of fish, their chargrilled scent meandering through the placid streets. Voices waft in friendly rhythms.

    But you don’t need to explore too far to see that this is far from a paradise.

    Daily life here can feel like a momentary interruption in an unabating journey towards devastation. The 2010 earthquake brought Haiti to its feet and to the conscience of the world, but it had been under the grip of destruction for years before. Politics here can, and often does, spill into bloodshed, staining that which it is supposed to serve. Remnants of communities long beyond breaking point cling to existence - smells of putrid, fermented garbage line the outer banks of walkways and streets. In a country that can’t even keep itself clean, what hope does education have?

    This is the Haiti that my father remembers. He came from Borgne - aptly pronounced by the locals as “Oh Boy” - a small, indistinguishable town on the north coast. Back then there were no public schools, so if you wanted an education, you had to pay for it. Thus schooling was reduced to the privileged pursuit of the wealthy and the well-connected. If you were neither, you went nowhere.

    My grandfather, Rollin, got himself ‘connected’, and in doing so got his son - my father - into a school. It meant a four hour trip over deadly mountain terrain; it meant sending their little boy away to live in the big city of strangers; it meant scraping together every last penny they ever had. When school fees were late, my father would be thrown to the streets, left to wander around in the hope that the money would soon be on its way. It always arrived, and he was allowed back in, in the end.

    But ask my father what he remembers, and you’ll hear nothing of the hardship and the struggle. Instead, he’ll speak of luck, of being the only one of his friends that got the chance of school. He’ll speak of opportunity, of progress, of the start point to the rest of his life.

    My father completed high school at the very top of his class, but graduated into the merciless dictatorship of Jean-Claude Duvalier. His education had taught him how to read, and that had given him the freedom to think. But Duvalier’s Haiti was not a place for free-thinkers. So in October 1980, my father, along with 132 other Haitian men and women, boarded a boat, heading somewhere in the loose direction of America. They were running away, of course, but my father never described it as an escape. Survival, he would always tell me, should never simply be the absence of fear, but the presence of hope. His hope, as he lay upon that rickety boat, was to live the life of the educated man he had become.

    The boat trudged along for eight days, small and overloaded, alone amongst the bullying seas. The exiles survived on slim rations of uncooked rice and sips of water. Finally, Cuba; and for some, far enough, as they scuttled from the shore into the secrecy of a new life. But my father had bigger dreams; 14 days later, they landed in Florida.

    A year later, my mother made the same journey. Hers was a quest of a different kind; a single minded mission to secure for her 18-month son the education that she had been denied. She was only 19. She left alone - her baby was to follow weeks later. It took them 17 years of battling the system before they were reunited. The education she had risked her life to get him, gone. But she had succeeded. My sister and I are her proof of that. I am a lawyer, and Patricia will soon graduate with her Master of Arts.

    When we were children, my father would take my sister and I to the public library every Saturday.  Come rain or shine, he made sure we got a chance to get to read as many books as possible.  And my mother would often come home burdened with secondhand books she’d bought from the local thrift store or garage sales. To this day, I have kept them all, an enduring reminder of the world that opens up when you learn to read. Perhaps it is with our father’s words ringing in our ears - of the power of education to change the world - that we have both found ourselves working for Pearson.

    My parents’ stories seem so far removed from the life I’ve enjoyed as a first-generation American, that to describe myself as a child of refugees feels odd. Yet that is exactly what I am. I am the children of those risking their lives, right at this moment, attempting the perilous crossing from North Africa to Europe. I am the children of Syria, torn from their homes and their classrooms by war. And I am the proof, that education is both the means and the motivation that can make the difference.

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    Learn more about how we’re trying to help the children displaced by the Syrian conflict.

    Connect with Elizabeth on Twitter - @elizabethgoueti

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  • Reading - a rite of passage

    by Emma Buckle

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    My son is 18 months old. Soon he’ll be at that age when you stop counting the number of words he can say. He’s up to seven. The sixth one was “Gruffalo”. His eighth word will probably be “Siri”. I’m lucky I can make a joke of it.

    For nearly 800 million adults around the world, reading can only ever be something done to them. The internet came and put education at the fingertips of more people than ever before. New ideas and data insights are improving school standards all the time. Yet illiteracy rates are merely being chipped away at, little bit by little bit.

    By 2020, 90% of the world’s over six-year olds are likely to own a mobile phone. Just think about that - there’ll be more people who can work a phone than can read or write. If this was health or homelessness or famine, we'd be talking about a humanitarian crisis. Yet illiteracy will likely be a major contributor to all three. Victims of a poor or entirely absent education, their illiteracy is the price they now pay. It is a heap of waste that seeps unnoticed by others into even the most basic parts of a day - a street sign, a menu, a tweet becomes the thing of subatomic quantum physics. Books are too lofty an ambition, so they remain untouched - just having enough words to see them through a day will do for now.

    A colleague of mine recently recalled when her boy’s reading ability sparked into life. He was five - a fairly typical age to be able to read, so you’d think. She remembers feeling a sense of revelation, even bewilderment, that this little creature who could barely do anything for himself not so long ago was now able to sit alone, with a book, and read.

    And she then realised how odd - how wrong - it was to feel like this. To be amazed and in awe of something that we should all take for granted; something that should be a simple rite of passage of a human’s progress through life. We’re born, we crawl, we walk, then talk, then read - isn’t that how it should go for everyone?

    I’ve read to my son ever since he was just a few weeks old. For me it is an emotional exercise, as much as an educational one. It’s about us sharing a moment of intimacy, with no interruptions - no phones, TV or Siri to get in the way. But the science behind doing so makes it equally rewarding. Children acquire between 500 and 1,100 words by the age of three. Regularly talking, singing and reading to our little ones during those years can increase their vocabulary by 75%.

    My son is lucky. Our shelves at home are stacked with books, and the school he'll go to will be too. But storybooks are shamefully the preserve of the better off. It is a fact that the poorer you are, the further away your closest book lies.

    Odds are, my son will be able to read. It’ll give him the opportunity to decide whether he’s a book lover. Whether, like his mum, he’ll be thrilled by the prospect of those opening pages, and eaten with the curiosity of finding out what happens next. Or perhaps he won’t like books - perhaps he’ll be into computers and want to spend all day coding. Or maybe he’ll be interested in the world around him - nature, politics, buildings. Whatever it is he ends up loving, he’ll be able to love it more because he’ll be able to read.

    It is never too late to learn how to read and write; but there is no substitute for learning to do that as a child.

    Today is the International Day of Families. Why not mark it by reading a book with your little boy, or girl, or niece, or nephew or grandchild and share the #joyofreading as a family. After all, there are still some things that Siri will never replace.

    You can connect with Emma on Twitter - @EmmaBucks

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    At Pearson we believe literacy should be a right, not a privilege. Join us in #ProjectLiteracy and help be the difference.

     

     

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