Posted by

Marcus Mason, BCC Head of Business, Education and Skills

15 Dec 2015

Last week we held the BCC’s first Business and Education Summit, bringing together leaders from business and education to explore how we can bridge the gap between those two worlds and build a pipeline of talent.

One of many great speakers on the day was Sir Michael Wilshaw, Chief Inspector of Ofsted, who talked from an educationalist perspective about the lack of focus in secondary schools on equipping young people with the skills and knowledge for work. He endorsed the BCC’s call to reintroduce work experience for pupils under 16 and to increase the number of school governors from the business community. Unsurprisingly, apprenticeships were a hot topic on the day and Wilshaw too talked about the importance of quality over quantity.

Sir Anthony Seldon delivered one of the most engaging talks of the day. He warned against an education system that is overly focused on exams and grade validation. Instead, he promoted creativity and active learning, quoting educationalist Howard Gardner who said "It's not how smart you are that matters, what really counts is how you are smart."

To his captivated audience he described how successful active learning can go hand-in-hand with employer engagement – a point later picked up by Fraser Doherty, who gave a thrilling keynote on how he made it into business and was encouraged along the way by his school teachers.

Well-respected academic, Professor Alison Wolf, delivered a presentation looking at long term labour market trends. Her findings revealed a reduction in entry level opportunities, less employer training and too many low level training courses – which she argued pointed towards a collapsed youth labour market.

We also heard about practical examples of successful partnerships between education and business from Barclays Life Skills, BT, Asda, the Rye Studio School and Middlesex University.

Our business speakers - Asda, Barclays and BT - demonstrated the forward thinking and proactive ways in which business is engaging with the education sector. Asda, for example, passes down its learning and engagement material through its supply chain so that many more employers, particularly SMEs, can actively engage with their local education community.

We heard the government’s view from Nick Boles MP, Minister for Skills, who talked about his aspiration for the UK to follow other European nations and offer apprenticeships to a much greater proportion of school leavers. He thought that one of the consequences of the apprenticeship levy will be that more businesses offer post 16 work experience. He explained that we need much clearer high quality vocational pathways, and that an independent panel led by Lord Sainsbury would be looking at how to make this a reality.

The work of Chambers was referenced throughout the day by the various speakers and panel discussions. In particular, our new Young Chamber membership offer to schools and the involvement of local Chambers in setting up University Technical Colleges.

By the end of the day some key themes were emerging, such as the disproportionate focus on grades and results, the need to look at broadening how we evaluate schools, and to call on government to focus on quality apprenticeship delivery rather than chasing targets. All speakers agreed on the importance of work experience, although there was some disagreement about when and how we should prioritise it.

A consensus began to form that while there are some fantastic examples of good practice, a lot more needs doing to forge national partnerships to help connect businesses with education. The Careers & Enterprise Company described how it plans to help do this through its network of enterprise advisers, who will help schools engage with business.

At the BCC, we think that we can bridge the gap by getting more businesspeople onto governing bodies of schools, ensuring a variety of work experience for all under 16s, and widening the school assessment and accountability framework to take into account the job outcomes of pupils.

We hope that the day sparked some new connections and collaborations that will help take forward this important work. Next year we aim to grow the Summit into a practical event with workshops to help education providers and businesses work more closely together. Watch this space - we look forward to seeing you then!