Little wonder pupils still lack workplace skills, says Nottingham headteacher

The dis-connect between education and the skills required by employers

A Nottingham headteacher says despite a thousand changes in education the UK is still falling a long way short in preparing pupils for the workplace because it’s restricted by the same old curriculum straightjacket.

cromptonPhil Crompton, Executive Head of The Trent Academies Group, says: “Since I began teaching in 1982 there’s been decades of intensive change in schools, yet for some reason we are still teaching the same subjects, pupils are still asking ‘Why do we have to do this? What’s the point?’ and employers are still complaining that pupils lack the skills they need.”

“More and more people are passing exams yet the content is rarely used. Pupils ask ‘why are we doing longshore drift sir? Why are we studying Pythagoras Theorem? Will I ever use it?’ The answer in most cases is no. “

Mr Crompton believes a lot more needs to be done to address the school/employer mismatch.  “Employability is right at the heart of why people send their children to school. But the world of work bears little resemblance to what’s going on in schools. What’s to say we shouldn’t be teaching GCSEs in resilience or team-working, A Levels in running your own business, or a BA in getting on with people?”

In the meantime he’s calling for much smarter link ups between schools and businesses which really bring the curriculum it to life. “It shouldn’t be about Nick Gibb’s so called “joyless skills” versus facts. We need both,” he said.

Mr Crompton is determined to tackle the problem head on in his 3 schools – Rushcliffe School, Arnold Hill Academy and The Farnborough Academy – so he’s getting every faculty pairing up with different local businesses. 

“Unlike more traditional business link ups, which can feel like a tag on activity and extra workload for teachers, these projects are integrating with the curriculum and even bringing duller bits of it to life,” he said.

The results so far have seen pupils involved in unconventional learning activities, such as taking orders in Spanish at a tapas bar, making mobile phone apps, creating landscaping plans for eco houses and designing bags for life. For a forthcoming project pupils will devise a “survival kit” for Nottingham Forest players who get loaned to European teams, containing guides and audio CDs in Spanish and French. The projects (case studies attached to this email) have been going down a storm with pupils, teachers, employers and parents.

Mr Crompton has also challenged his staff to think out of the box about how their subject area can better support employability. At a training conference for the Group’s 400 teachers and support staff, he said: “We’re working harder and under more pressure but still the top ten per cent running the country are mostly from private schools. When people are able to buy the privilege of running the country we have to ask ourselves what are we doing wrong? Exam passes matter, off course they do, but is there something else we can do alongside this to prepare them.”

Business expert Rob Brown, who works with FTSE 100 companies such as HSBC and Lloyds , told the conference the top ten skills which businesses look for include “being likeable”, “bouncing back from failure’ and “turning weaknesses into strengths”. He said:  “You can’t necessarily teach all these skills but you can encourage them. We end up with an unemployment problem because kids are out of their depth in the workplace. Let’s see if we can shift things, even just by 2 or 3 per cent. Instead of just getting ‘a’ job, let’s see if we can help them get a good job, or even the perfect job.”

Teachers were also given the chance to quiz a panel of local industry leaders. Jo Smart, Head of HR at British Gypsum, was on the panel. She said: “The approach these schools are taking is essential and businesses must play their part to make sure the skills we need are coming through”.

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