What Vince Cable said about teachers – and, more importantly, what he meant

by Stephen Tall on March 6, 2014

vince cable“Teachers know absolutely nothing about the world of work.” That’s what Vince said if you believe today’s newspaper headlines. And they’re right, he did use those words. But what the newspapers are choosing to ignore is what he meant by them.

Here’s the full quote, from a question-and-answer session about how best to improve the quality of careers advice:

“There has been an argument in Government about how to get the right careers advice in schools and successive governments have frankly messed this up. But the underlying problem is of course that most teachers, particularly in the secondary sector, are graduates. They know how universities work, they know what you have to do to get an A-level, they know about UCAS forms – but they know absolutely nothing about the world of work.”

At that point, Vince’s audience of 600 representatives from the manufacturing industry laughed and clapped. Vince quickly realised how his remarks could have been (mis-)interpreted, commenting “I’ve only one joke today and it was unintentional.” You can heard the exchange below:

So what was Vince saying?

First, that teachers are very good at the job they do – that’s clear from his point about their expertise in schools.

Secondly, there is more that needs to be done to ensure that teenagers get the best possible advice about routes into work just as they do about routes into further study – and that this doesn’t always happen currently. Hence Nick Clegg’s announcement last week of a UCAS-style “one stop shop” for careers advice.

So yes, Vince’s comments were clumsy. They generalise about teachers and doubtless ignore a lot of schools’ excellent efforts to connect properly with local employers. But they were off-the-cuff comments about improving careers advice – not, as is being presented by some, an insult against teachers’ professionalism.

* Stephen Tall is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, and editor of the 2013 publication, The Coalition and Beyond: Liberal Reforms for the Decade Ahead. He is also a Research Associate for the liberal think-tank CentreForum and writes at his own site, The Collected Stephen Tall.