How many people really understand the world of education as well as the world of work? I tried to find a handful in Birmingham – and failed.
There are great people in schools – but they don’t know what local employers are looking for in terms of aptitudes, skills and attitudes. There are good people in big companies who run internal training schemes and apprenticeships, but they never get involved in shaping the curriculum of local schools. And there are even more small companies who’d love to employ a youngster or offer an apprenticeship, but find the whole process too cumbersome and complicated.
During eight years of Tory/Lib Dem rule in Birmingham, little strategic work was done in the city. After the progress made when Tim Brighouse was Chief Education Officer in Birmingham, we just coasted along. This has to change. Labour is back in control and we are Europe’s fastest growing young city.
Roughly speaking a third of the city is under the age of 24 and a third of those don’t have a job. The city offers a dazzling array of different schools and yet when the local hospital wants to recruit medical technicians, they can’t be found locally. New jobs are created but too often we look for people from outside to fill them.
What has to be done? Academies have greater freedom over the curriculum. The English Baccalaureate is at the core of this, but is not wide enough. Let’s use this freedom to shape the curriculum in such a way that it meets the needs of the local employment market.
Our local schools are up for it. They can see that for many young people working hard at school no longer guarantees a decent job. The local employers know from firsthand experience that they lack the basic ‘employability skills’ as well some of the more specific skills they are looking for.
If the creative and gaming industries are one of the economic drivers in your city, then ditch woodworking and introduce computer programming and coding. And I don’t just mean being able to use programmes and spreadsheets; no, actual programming!
In Birmingham we will work on using the English Baccalaureate as the foundation, but add to it the needs of the world of work. Shape the curriculum to be responsive to local employers. This means challenging both schools and employers. I hope we can make it work here – and if we do, maybe others will look at the idea too.