Make schools work for us, say employers

1st May 2015 at 01:00
Business leaders call for curriculum changes to suit their needs

The curriculum taught in Scottish schools should be moulded to better meet the needs of employers, business leaders have claimed.

Employers' groups have complained of being given insufficient time to spend with pupils, and that teachers often lack knowledge of the world outside education, resulting in school-leavers being poorly informed about the job opportunities available to them.

Businesses should be given a greater say in what is taught in schools to ensure that young people are adequately equipped with the skills they need for employment, according to Barry McCulloch, senior policy adviser for the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB).

"Up until now, I think it's been fair to say that schools and colleges haven't been adequately preparing young people for the world of work," he said.

Addressing the Scottish Parliament's Education and Culture Committee, Mr McCulloch added: "Until we get to the point where the curriculum is both influenced by the private sector and producing for the private sector, you will always have these dislocations between the supply of the skills and the demand from industry."

But Scotland's biggest teaching union, the EIS, has railed against schools being "subservient" to business, arguing that education is about more than getting pupils ready for work.

Education's `primary purpose'

In written evidence to the committee's inquiry into the attainment gap between poorer and more affluent pupils, the FSB stated that "the primary purpose of education at all levels is to equip learners with the skills they need to succeed in the job market".

The FSB, which has more than 19,000 members, argued that "regularly exposing teachers, old and new, to the world outside education is critically important" if the Scottish government's youth employment strategy, published last December, was to succeed.

Employers were "never quite certain" if they were welcome in schools, according to Grahame Barn, head of membership services at the Civil Engineering Contractors Association.

Mr Barn said that he was regularly given no more than 10 or 15 minutes at careers fairs to pitch to pupils and dispel their misconceptions about his sector. This often proved challenging, he added, with few students being aware of degree-level routes into construction, a "huge industry with huge potential".

"Ten minutes once a year isn't giving us the opportunity to make that case," Mr Barn said, adding that there were also concerns that some schools focused their attention on academically gifted pupils.

Phil Ford, strategic partnerships director for the Construction Industry Training Board in Scotland, said: "Some schools will measure their success in terms of the number of young people who go on to university. I think we need to challenge that and promote vocational careers as equally valid."

Written evidence submitted to the committee by the Scottish Building Federation called for schools to undergo an "attitudinal change to more substantially value the worth of vocational training".

MSPs were told by representatives from the private sector that many teachers failed to appreciate the attributes that firms valued in potential employees. Rather than demanding that 16-year-olds had a long string of academic qualifications, employers were more interested in what they did out of school and "how they socially engage", Mr Barn said.

This echoes calls made by the CBI business lobby group for a greater focus on the "holistic" development of pupils. In arguing for an overhaul of school inspections in England in December, the organisation called on schools to develop "determination, confidence and responsibility" among primary pupils rather than simply focusing on qualifications.

Personal statements were more important than CVs and the purpose of interviews was often misunderstood, Mr Barn said. "Sometimes I think that schools.don't spend enough time in helping the kids to understand.that it's a chat they're having with an employer," he added.

In interviews, no more than "three or four decent, coherent points" were expected from candidates, he said.

But calls for the curriculum to be adapted to meet the needs of the private sector were rejected by EIS general secretary Larry Flanagan.

"Although schools do have an important role in equipping young people for the world of work, this is not the sole function of the education system," he told TESS. "The EIS would certainly reject the notion that the curriculum should be subservient to the needs of business."

Mr Flanagan added that last year's Wood report on developing Scotland's young workforce was "a challenge for businesses to step up and support our school system, rather than simply making demands of it".

`We need to create trusting partnerships'

Edinburgh's Craigroyston Community High School has won plaudits after revamping its curriculum to offer a broader range of qualifications in subjects such as boatbuilding and bike mechanics, as well as forging links with employers.

Craigroyston has now arranged with banking giant Santander to offer S3 pupils work at a week-long business festival later this month. The students will organise food and drink, meet the speakers and design a logo for the event.

Headteacher Steve Ross says: "To best prepare our young people for the working world, schools and employers need to create trusting partnerships and work together to ensure we are embedding our pupils with the skills and experiences needed to thrive in the 21st-century workplace."

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