Neil Carberry

Is the sole purpose of school to prepare people for work?

No. Education is about preparing people for life. One of the important things to remember is that a lot of the behaviours, skills and attitudes employers look for aren't so different from the things that will help young people to be successful for the rest of their lives.

How aware are business people of what goes on in the world of education?

Most businesses are deeply interested, but not all are brilliantly informed. The business and education sectors often have similar goals but speak a different language.

How well is the Scottish education system delivering for the Scottish economy?

Scotland is ahead of the game in as much as they (ministers) have articulated a clear vision of what the education system should be through Curriculum for Excellence. England and Wales are a little behind on that. By comparison, they are a little ahead on how they incentivise school improvement.

What are the most important skills school-leavers need when they enter the employment market?

English and maths are the start line. You don't get far without reading, writing and adding up. It is not the 12 fantastic exam results that make the difference to employers. It is the light in the eye, the grit, the resilience, the willingness to muck in.

How important is work experience in preparing young people for work?

Work experience needs to be defined. Two weeks in June doing photocopying - how important is that? Not very. What we need is a strategy for work exploration, work inspiration at primary school - seeing how the world works - and then lots of little interactions that lead up to periods in the workplace. That is where businesses have to step up. You have to offer something that inspires people.

How useful is enterprise education in schools?

It is really important, but it cannot stand alone. It has to be set in context. That is why as well as enterprise education in school you need young people to be seeing real businesses, and people who look like them making a success of their careers.

How do you rate the careers service here?

It is much better than the careers service in England, which is doing badly. The challenge here is to make sure that we get deeper into the school system. It is not enough to start at 14, 15 or 16. Inspirational careers advice is about starting earlier and building up from there. It also needs to be relevant.

In the First Steps report, you question whether the school system is aligned to deliver Curriculum for Excellence and say you would welcome greater decentralisation to schools. Why?

If you look at the Scottish school system by comparison with others around the world, there is still a much higher level of local authority control. We would like to see aspects of greater control for headteachers and greater oversight by government bodies. We would also like to see teachers getting more school-specific advice and support. Another question is: how do we ensure that the inspection reports schools are getting are covering all aspects of CfE and are encouraging them to deliver all of them, and not just focusing on exam results?"

How will it help to deliver CfE?

The critical thing is that the non-academic qualification parts of CfE can only really be delivered by embedding them in the whole of the curriculum and everything that schools do. It is about the extracurricular expectation and delivery, it is about the culture of the school and the feeling that the staff engender. The people who can control that are teachers and headteachers on the ground, not the local education authority.

In the same report, it is stated that the CBI supports the government's focus on the development of literacy and numeracy. Has there been a lack of focus on these core skills so far?

It is just about restating the primacy of that. The first step is getting that right, because it is the gateway skill to everything else. At primary school, the goal should be to get the literacy right, get the numeracy right and inspire children.

Your report is largely based on England, so why should the Scottish education sector pay attention to it?

The key principles - which are about devolving power to teachers, supporting schools, focusing on character, attitude, aptitude and behaviour, as well as academic achievement - are things that apply in every jurisdiction in the UK. The fact that we then turn them into tactical steps for England simply reflects the population balance. I am working with colleagues in Scotland to develop similar recommendations for the Scottish system.

Which of your recommendations are the most important in the Scottish context?

Primarily that "building up the role of heads is essential to delivering school improvement" - allying that with enough freedom and support for them to succeed, and giving them an HMIE framework that supports and guides that development.


Born: Edinburgh, 1977

Education: Groathill Primary, Edinburgh; Whitelees Primary, Cumbernauld; Abronhill High School, Cumbernauld; Chiltern Edge School, Reading; University of Oxford; London School of Economics

Career: HR consultant; senior policy adviser for employment and skills, CBI; director for employment and skills, CBI.