Stephen Twigg’s speech to the launch of the CBI education and skills survey.
It is fitting that in the week that the Government has published its new programmes of study for the primary national curriculum that the CBI and Pearson are publishing this important survey. The curriculum is one of a range of important weapons in the armoury of the education system for furthering the educational progress of those it seeks to serve.
As the Shadow Secretary of State for Education, I am overseeing the Labour Party’s policy review process in education. As we develop our ideas for Labour’s next manifesto, it is crucial that we engage with and learn from the business community. That is why I welcome the important contribution that this survey will make to the policy debate on how we build on the education system to create the citizenry and labour market that we need to compete in a rebalanced, global economy. I recently asked Barry Sheerman MP, former Chair of the Education Select Committee, to establish a Commission to report to me on how we better align the school system with the world of work. Can I thank the CBI and all business partners who have actively participated in this process to date?
I want to draw on three particular aspects from the findings of the survey.
First, on raising standards. The foundations of educational progression are rooted in Numeracy and Literacy – identified in the survey as the ‘enabling skills’. The mantra of the three Rs remains at the heart of my vision for England’s education system. Important as these building blocks are, if we are to be savvy, our schools must address the core question that is ‘does the education system break the link between family background and chances of success at school?’
And in order to do this, we have to have a system that equips young people with the confidence and aspiration that is all too often the preserve of those in private education.
The survey reveals that far more businesses expect to increase the number of jobs requiring leadership and management skills and higher skills in the next three to five years. It is fair to say this is a trend that is likely to continue. I recently spoke about the importance of Speaking Skills in schools. I visited the fantastic Paddington Academy with the Katja Hall, Chief Policy Director at CBI, to raise the profile of this important practice in schools. Paddington, rated Outstanding by Ofsted following an inspection last year, places a strong emphasis across the curriculum on developing the speaking skills of its pupils. It is no coincidence that the school has a thriving enterprise programme in which children set up and run business initiatives.
Paddington is just one example of a school taking a lead in this area. Whilst we grapple with the question of growth in the economy and press for progress on the demand side of the labour market, we must be ambitious in our vision for an education system that meets the needs of business and raises the aspirations of our young people.
And these ambitions must be rooted in system-wide improvement, not piecemeal changes for the few. I have set out in no uncertain terms that the bottom line – backed up by the evidence – is in raising the quality and status of teachers and leadership in our schools. That is what is key to raising standards in both the 3Rs and in equipping young people with the sort of skills – like Speaking Skills, self management and customer awareness – for a rebalanced, service led economy. System wide improvement in both ‘enabling’ and ‘employability’ skills is essential.
Second, on partnerships between business and schools, it is welcome that we see from the survey results a renewed commitment from business to invest in partnerships with schools. Over half of the employers surveyed have built links with secondary schools and further education colleges, with over a third having increased their engagement over the past year.
In government a key component of our reform agenda in education came from the role that was placed on fostering partnerships between business and schools. Labour’s academy programme required a partner sponsor to assist in delivering a school improvement programme. The evidence shows that this formula raised attainment at a higher level than across the rest of the system. Whilst there are many aspects of the Education Secretary’s programme that I object to, I welcome the expansion of University Technical Colleges and the partnerships that they are bringing between business and schools. Like the brilliant JCB Academy that I have visited in Staffordshire.
I also recently visited a Studio School and was particularly impressed by the amount of time given to vocational training in the workplace. Ed Miliband has signalled his intent with vocational pathways and apprenticeships in committing a future Labour government to secure apprenticeship guarantees for government contracts.
In renewing our offer in education, Labour will be building on the partnership approach that has delivered so much for schools.
But whilst I welcome developments in this area, I too would like to encourage businesses across the country in taking this forward. Many of the participants surveyed provide work experience placements. It is regrettable that the Government has removed the statutory requirement for schools to provide work experience placements at a time when businesses are saying that graduates and young people are lacking this crucial experience. I hope that businesses will not take their foot off the pedal, as the Government has done. It is important that the business community takes seriously its obligations in providing opportunities for young people so that they have the necessary experience that is required of them when entering the labour market.
Finally, the third point I want to focus on is information, advice and guidance in schools. The survey found that employers see the quality of careers advice for young people as not good enough, by a balance of -68%. This is a deeply worrying finding and one that compounds my belief that the Government must take decisive action to address. In getting rid of the requirements to provide face-to-face careers guidance, the Government’s plans for an online and telephone support service are not good enough. Not for business and not for the life chances of young people.
As with school improvement more broadly, I think that partnerships between schools and businesses and schools and the third sector, can play an important part in addressing the careers guidance deficit.
I have seen some excellent examples of this in practice. Take the organisation Future First. Working with schools and their alumni networks, Future First provides a model that is about raising aspirations and providing informed and impartial information on pathways for young people to take.
In closing, I want to thank the CBI and Pearson for this important contribution to the debate on our education system. As Ed Miliband has set out, Labour is in the process of renewing its offer to the public as we seek to rebalance the economy. At the same time, Labour is clear that we must set our sights high as we develop our thinking about the education system that is fit for meeting both the economic and social the challenges of tomorrow.
Stephen Twigg MP is Shadow Secretary of State for Education