I do not know what I do not know

Posted on August 10, 2009


Without meaning to give undue credit to Rumsfeld, there is more than a hint of resonance in his 2002 briefing when it comes to the latest research on state versus private education.

The Sutton Trust’s research into access to higher education is a valuable addition to the debate and confidence is indeed a major factor in the likelihood of success at a variety of stages in life as I argued on Radio 2 back in January whilst conducting the ACE Research. 

But there is also the issue of networks and knowing how things work.  Social networks are often discussed either in reference to online sites such as Facebook or in a detrimental manner – eg the Old Boys’ Network and its related glass ceilings.  It’s the latter network that should be concentrated on here (though not in a pejorative sense) since who you know (and who you don’t) directly impacts on your understanding of the opportunities available.

It’s something I myself have direct experience of in getting into a good university but having little clue how to get out of it (and into career paths that were second nature to many contemporaries whose parents knew how things worked.) 

To me, this is a matter of collective experience and generational memory – my parents didn’t go to university.  So I don’t believe it’s always that social mobility is blocked deliberately but more a case that often we do not know what we do not until after the opportunity has passed.

As for The Sutton Trust’s suggestion that careers advice in schools should be better, well, yes, there are many things that could be better about it, not least the fact that almost all schools push university even when it is not the best option for a child.  But, again, without every school having someone within it, in a careers guidance role, who is looked up to and respected, and who happened to go to Oxbridge, wouldn’t it be better to come up with suggestions that can lead to real improvements?