A view from the bridge: what pupils are missing

1st July 2011 at 01:00
Analysis - Business leaders complain that young people can leave school lacking the skills companies need. So what do they want to see on the curriculum?

Jane Frost - Individual customer director, HMRC; previously set up BBC Technology

"I would like to see much better grounding for kids so they don't move on until they understand the 'why' behind what they are doing, not just the 'what'. I'm faced with appalling adult literacy and numeracy, people who don't understand their tax or wage packet. I don't think they really understood what they learnt: they did pass exams, but it wasn't rooted in them so they lost the skills, the knack and the technique.

Things employers want aren't being developed in schools - creative curiosity, emotional intelligence, team-building. They are much more in demand in this current environment."

Lord Jones - Former director general of the CBI and trade minister

"Everybody in the world learns English as a second language, so that makes us lazy. But if you want to sell into emerging markets, you stand a better chance if you talk in their language. I would learn two languages: Spanish and Mandarin. History is important, too. We should be proud of our nation, understand that we did some fabulous things and some pretty horrible things in the Empire. But we should see them in their historical context. So much prejudice would be defeated if decent people were not ignorant of history. More Indians died on D-Day than Frenchmen. I bet those who listen to the extremists don't know that."

Tim Melville - Ross Chair, Royal London Insurance, DTZ Holdings, and former chief executive, Nationwide Building Society

"When I was chairman of Investors in People, all staff were allowed to take at least five days of paid leave each year to carry out some kind of community project. A couple of staff in personnel took a mini-play into London schools, showing how not to behave at an interview. One girl was the interviewer; the other left the room and came back in with smeared lipstick all over her face, rolled her skirt up above her knees and straggled her hair. She then sat for her interview polishing her nails and looking at the ceiling. At the end, the interviewer would turn to the class and say, 'Now, girls, would you employ someone like this?' and they'd all shout 'No!' and explain why. The employability statistics for the schools in question went through the roof.

Pupils should learn analytical and softer skills, which should permeate the curriculum, but not to the exclusion of knowledge."

Jon Moulton - Founder and managing director of private equity company Better Capital

"I would make sure young people are numerate and literate and understand commerce and the basics of economics. I would like schools to put more effort into science and engineering, electronics, medical technologies, anything where we can equip people for the industries of tomorrow, to support the economy in future.

The ability to research on the internet is certainly a basic skill and anyone who leaves school without it is handicapped. Anything that teaches analytical capability and argument skills is likely to be good. It is a shame that technology has displaced some obvious skill bases. I'm relatively old now, but my mental arithmetic far exceeds the capability of the 30-year-olds I work with. It gives me the competitive edge.

(Risk aversion) is a problem in science and technology. The kind of things I did in a chemistry lab a teacher would be put in prison for now. In many subjects you need practical experience and a lot of that is now suppressed on health and safety grounds. In business, if the first time you see risk it petrifies you, that is a serious disadvantage. Understanding that things go wrong and that they can't always be prevented is an important lesson that many people don't learn until incredibly late in life."

Karen Price - Chief executive of e-skills UK

"I believe we can have a curriculum with academic rigour, but we need to get that applied and contextualised. I was brilliant at rote-learning and could still reel off the periodic table now, but nobody ever explained to me why I learnt it. Adding context would bring learning alive and, by applying, we can embed employability. Soft skills aren't independent of learning. The Diplomas are not perfect, but we have gone a long way towards achieving that magic blend of applied academic learning with embedded employability skills."

Heather Rabbatts - Former managing director, 4Learning, and executive deputy chair, Millwall FC

"There is more that unites us than divides us. It is about how we, in an increasingly complex world, solve some of those issues together. We need young people to sit down and talk about these issues. It would be great if there were space in the curriculum to attend to some of those issues - and have people from business and other worlds talking to them about running global companies and what that means.

Learning and being immersed in technology is crucial. You can send people an e-newsletter or an email but we all yearn for conversation and direct exchange of experiences. For teachers, those skills are about communication. The important thing is that young people learn to articulate and express themselves. It's also about how you work together, share information, build teams, make tough decisions. In the world of work, those skills are absolutely prime."

Dr Noorzaman Rashid - Director for board and leadership services, Harvey Nash plc

"The education system is really about citizenship and making a difference to communities - and schools need to have that as a value. We used to teach more about humanities and general studies and we need more of that today. Citizenship is very important as today's young people are tomorrow's global citizens. It's about what individuals can do to make a difference in wider society - their local church, mosque, community group, or the country.

In the workplace, the younger generation sit next to each other, but email rather than speak. Schools can make a difference if they encourage more discussion, more debate in the classroom and in smaller groups. It will help them at school, as they look for work, in their families and in their communities.

As a recruiter for very senior roles, there is no doubt that the candidate who can combine professional qualifications with good general knowledge and excellent interpersonal and communication skills is more likely to get promoted and do better."

Sir Martin Sorrell - Founder and chief executive of advertising company WPP

"Business studies are not as prolific as they should be. Business is not seen as intellectually or academically virtuous. Languages are very important, and Chinese should be mandatory - there are more English speakers in China than there are outside it - and maths is very important, as are engineering and science. We still seem to have an anti-science, anti-engineering attitude. I am concerned that education has too narrow a syllabus and often does not hold business in high regard. I do think the syllabus is too narrow. When you get to 15, you start to focus on arts or sciences."

Ruth Spellman, Chief executive, Chartered Management Institute

"I think we need to give kids a lot more of what they need to do in the workplace. There are lots of lessons on drugs and sex in PSHE, but not much on preparing for the world of work. An awful lot more could be done involving employers as role models.

I would also have management skills as part of the core curriculum and we are working on that with academies and the university technical colleges. I would be looking to see if someone could write a letter or a CV, and at their presentational style. I would test their English skills as well as asking them to read Shakespeare, because it is only when you come to communicate something that you realise what language skills you need.

Being able to have a conversation with another person from across the globe, to talk about something outside of work, to apply your intellectual skills to a situation and analyse what's going on - which you get from studying a science or engineering or maths - those things are vital. You may be excellent at technical drawing, you may be an excellent physicist or engineer, but those core skills - analysis, presentation, understanding and communication - are really vital to success in any modern business, and all successful knowledge workers have them.

We tend to split off the academic and the vocational groups and that is a mistake. I was in favour of Mike Tomlinson's report that recommended an integrated curriculum and I still think that is what we need to come back to. We're putting forward a proposal for a professional and technical baccalaureate and this will encompass some of the things I have been talking about."

Miles Templeman - Director general, Institute of Directors

"Students should have as good a range of subjects as possible to find subjects that engage them. Too many at the bottom end just aren't engaged and end up with very few qualifications. It's not that they don't have the ability, it's that the teaching quality, the subject interest isn't there.

Certain people are good at languages, and they carry on being good at languages all their lives, but I don't think it's good to force them on someone who is not good at them. An international appreciation and a global outlook are more important.

Adaptability is fundamental, but literacy matters most. Some kids get behind by age 11 and never catch up. A teacher recently told me that he wrote something in Latin on the board that translated as, 'If you understand this, put your hand up'.

Of course, the class was baffled. He said, 'That's what it's like when you can't read'. I thought that was a nice way of putting what is a fundamental problem that we haven't solved. How we teach and the way kids engage matters more than what should be and shouldn't be in the curriculum."

Simon Woodroffe - Founder of the Yo! Sushi chain and one of the first 'dragons' on BBC series Dragons' Den

"By simply having a subject called entrepreneurship, you say to people, 'You are allowed to think about this'. We absolutely should have young people in businesses seeing how the whole thing works - much more than two weeks' work experience. I tried to get something on television called Work Adventures, where we took kids to Ford Motor Company, where they were releasing a new car. And we gave the kids the marketing budget. They go around all the departments and get advice from marketing and finance. And they take the decisions. It gets the kids talking and it gets everyone seeing what actually happens in the world. Instead of saying, 'I want to be David Beckham, or some popstar', kids now say, 'I want be one of those entrepreneurs like Simon Woodroffe or Duncan Bannatyne'. That's cool. If you encourage kids to go out and be creative and entrepreneurial, rather than being a nation of shopkeepers, we could be a nation of entrepreneurs."

Top Nine

Pupils need...

1. Very high standards in English and maths and core knowledge of key elements of science, great literature and the country's history.

2. The skills to think in different ways: collaboratively in teams, as well as individually; deductively as well as inductively; creatively as well as logically.

3. The capacity and research skills to distinguish good evidence from bad - particularly important in the Google age.

4. Confidence and enthusiasm, which can be learnt through the curriculum, but equally through sport, outward bound, drama, music, art, public speaking and debating.

5. Interpersonal skills and empathy: they need to understand a diverse range of viewpoints in the 21st century.

6. A set of values that build character and sense of purpose: they need that bit extra in terms of self-discipline, good manners, smartness, punctuality, respect and that old- fashioned concept of sacrifice in achieving what you want to achieve.

7. Resilience: the capacity to handle failures or knock-backs and keep on going.

8. An inquisitive nature, critical thinking and a self-directed approach to learning: these are what universities look for. Extended projects can help build these skills.

9. Practical as well as academic intelligence: this requires real-world opportunities and higher quality, more practical work experience so young people can develop skills in a way that makes sense to them.

Heads, teachers and industry

These interview extracts are taken from the Lessons for Life report, published by HTI (Heads, Teachers and Industry) to mark its 25th anniversary. HTI is a charity that promotes co-operation between business, schools and government. Former policy adviser Conor Ryan interviewed more than 50 business leaders and educationalists for the report, on subjects including their own schooling and their advice on leadership. For more information, visit www.hti.org.uk.

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