Tags: Curriculum Manager | Headteacher | Learning Partnerships | School Leadership & Management | Teaching & Learning Coordinator | Vocational Curriculum

Creating and delivering productive links between business and the school curriculum can benefit everyone’s future, argues headteacher Martin Ainsworth

For us to evaluate the links between schools and business and their impact on learning we need to begin by understanding its recent history. When I completed my secondary education and headed off to university in 1971 I was largely ignorant of what business was and how it functioned. I can’t remember any attempt by my teachers to link my learning to what was happening in the ‘real world’ of business. Indeed, there was an encouragement from my grammar school teachers to work hard or else I might have to get a job in a shop or a factory – or worse still be a tradesman! ‘Ivory towers’ were the places to be and learning for learning’s sake was a wonderful thing. On completion of higher education it was virtually ‘back to school’, sealed off from the harsh reality of business. When Mike Tomlinson dropped his report on the desk of the secretary of state for education, we watched with interest. Would the nettle be grasped and at last the government acknowledge that, if education and business were really to work together, the curriculum would need to change? Sadly, no. All the old prejudices seemed to surface. Equally valued vocationally linked qualifications must mean a diminution of standards? What would be the impact on the brightest and best? Where would be the rigour? Universities and academies weren’t the slaves of industry, independence and purity must be maintained at all costs. A new curriculum might mean massively changing the way students learn and teachers teach. Could we afford flexible timetables and personalised learning? Could we trust business leaders to help design the curriculum – surely that was what teachers did?

Unaffordable luxuries

So in the end the nettle was not grasped and as a result the message remains unclear. Meanwhile, elsewhere, in China, Korea, India or eastern Europe, the business of education seems much clearer. Voracious tiger economies need an increasingly well-educated workforce. The preciousness of academics is a luxury they can’t afford. The results are there for all to see – just as are our poor progress in various tables that compare our students’ performance with that of our worldwide competitors. For the time being, forging strong curricular links between schools and business will remain a piecemeal affair. Schools who value these links will do more than others. Businesses with the vision and capability to value the links will do more than others. When these enthusiasts work together the results will enrich the learning of their teachers and students. Their curriculum will be more relevant and dynamic. The students will be far better equipped to become effective employees of the future. Business leaders are regularly surveyed as to what skills and qualities they want school leavers to possess. The lists seem to have an encouragingly similar appearance. There doesn’t seem to be huge debate about what business needs strong team players, effective communicators and people with:

  • keen analytical skills
  • secure literacy, numeracy and ICT skills
  • personal drive and determination
  • honesty and integrity
  • good attendance and punctuality
  • creativity and initiative.

I can’t believe there are many students, teachers, parents, governors or politicians who would have big problems adopting this list as a worthy set of aspirations.

Enterprising learning

As a specialist college in business and enterprise we value and espouse these outcomes not just because our colleagues in business like them but because we like them. We struggled in our early years of becoming a specialist college to know how to make our speciality inspirational to all the learners in our community. We have moved from trying to make everything specifically related to something featured in business to concentrating on enterprising learning. Some of the examples of successful entrepreneurs we researched turned out to be morally dubious and not the sort of role models we would be seeking our students to admire and emulate. But the qualities and skills featured in the business ‘wish list’ did inspire and were worth working with. So we changed our emphasis and developed our vision of enterprising learning. We had waited for the arrival of the business and enterprise specialist status because we felt every subject could contribute to and be enriched by this specialism. This experience will manifest itself in two ways. Firstly, activity in specific academic subjects and vocational courses. Secondly, in subjects adopting enterprising learning in a way that enhances the quality of learning in their area.

Developing 14-19 vocational provision

We have worked with our local network learning community, the South Ribble Learning Federation, to develop 14-19 vocational provision. The Eric Wright Vocational Centre is a thriving shared facility providing Level 1 and 2 courses in construction. The Eric Wright Building Group is a major sponsor and since its inception have been represented on our board of directors. Curriculum content and other aspects of course design are planned in a true partnership – often the business knows what skills and knowledge will be needed and the educationalists know how to design learning experiences to ensure effective delivery. This year has seen the opening of the Image Hairdressing Salon at Wellfield developed in conjunction with our local FE provider, Runshaw College. This training salon provides state-of-the-art facilities which currently provide level 1 courses and will develop capability for the learning federation to deliver the specialist diploma in the immediate future. Our learning federation has been successful in progressing through the gateway to deliver the engineering specialist diploma and will move into creative arts/media and construction very soon. Collectively we are strong and through the education business partnership and well-established links with key local employers, eg BAe Systems, Leyland Trucks and Lancashire County Council, we can work at a sufficiently senior level to move the specialist diploma agenda forward to our mutual benefit.

Sharing good practice

As a Spoke Enterprise School we are collecting and sharing good practice in enterprise education, helping partner schools to develop student entitlement in this area. Embedding work experience into the curriculum work uses Year 10 students’ experience to enrich their GCSE English writing, speaking and listening. We are looking to develop an apprenticeship model for extended work experience. Local firms, often struggling to find suitable employees, work with individual students on one/two-day placements. Over two years the student becomes a part of the business and receives training and a varied experience. The business potentially develops the quality employee they want, ready for work at 16. Meanwhile, enterprising learning is fostered across the school. High-quality communication skills are developed in English, MFL, media studies and ICT, creativity and ingenuity are encouraged in art/photography, music and technology and the ability to analyse is a big part of work in the humanities and in science. Numerical and financial literacy are developed in mathematics and statistics and teamwork in PE, business studies, form and year group activities. Everyone is encouraging good punctuality and keeping up the tempo of school life to fuel drive and determination. Former pupils, lawyers, doctors, entrepreneurs, journalists, sports players, academics, engineers, hairdressers, soldiers and sailors are invited to work with students. They are living proof of what can be achieved and know the school, its students and its community. Often their message eg look smart/work smart is listened to more keenly than when it is contained in our own assembly programme.

Much has been achieved and the future will be exciting bringing further challenges and opportunities. Hopefully, the further development of LEAD groups and local strategic partnerships will be a vehicle to deliver productive links between business and the school curriculum. Politicians may move away from short-term gains and see the bigger picture. Planning for the next 10-15 years can take place involving decision makers in business and industry. Flexible provision can be established to ensure quality, relevance and continuity and schools and businesses can share a productive journey improving the quality of all our futures.

This article first appeared in Secondary Headship – Oct 2007

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