I firmly believe that preparing for exams is about 25 percent of what schools are really for; the remaining 75 percent should be focused on helping young people develop intellectually, emotionally, psychologically and artistically.
An increasingly important part of this development should involve developing skills for the workplace, a workplace that through technology is changing and will continue to change immeasurably over the next five to 10 years and beyond. We cannot be certain what the employment market will look like in the future, but it is predicted that, owing to ongoing technological developments, the head count in many businesses will be reduced by up to 30 percent.
Employers have been outspoken in recent years about graduates being poorly prepared for the workplace and in an increasingly competitive employment market we have a responsibility, I believe, to integrate this preparation within the education we provide. A survey of business leaders last year by Barclays found that more than half of companies claimed school leavers struggled to manage conversations properly when asked to call clients or suppliers. Overall, one in five businesses said young people were ‘not ready’ for entry-level jobs.
If young people are not suitably prepared for the world they will enter, then we are letting them down.
Such findings are a cause of concern. Education is about preparing young people for their futures: a rigorous, inspiring classroom education together with developing their life skills. If they leave us with transferable skills and the confidence to thrive and stand out in the workplace, then we will have equipped them for their future.
As school leaders, we have to be guided by what employers are saying. If young people are not suitably prepared for the world they will enter, then we are letting them down. It is our duty as educators to respond to an identified skills shortage.
The all-party parliamentary group on social mobility last year recommended that schools place greater emphasis on skills such as resilience, empathy and self-control, and suggested that certificates could be awarded to mark out students’ achievements in these areas.
At Benenden we are taking this issue seriously. From the start of the next academic year, we will be launching a professional skills qualification for our sixth form which will teach students some of the essentials of the business world. It will include skills such as pitching an idea, creating a business plan, debating, teamwork and reading financial accounts. It will also offer advice on how to behave during an interview or business meeting.
We are seeking for the course to be accredited by an external body at diploma level so employers will know that a girl at Benenden with this qualification will be coming into their business ready to hit the ground running.
Benenden School grounds
We are in the fortunate position of having a wonderful network of highly successful former students (whom we call seniors) who will undoubtedly be keen to help the next generation of Benenden seniors with their careers wherever possible. I will be approaching some of our seniors to ask if they would be willing to help offer their expertise and time for the professional skills qualification. This could include giving talks, providing work experience places or helping to craft the content of the course by working with my team. We will also be speaking with business leaders to ensure that our professional skills qualification is set up to offer girls the practical skills that employers crave.
At Benenden we work hard to give students what we call a complete education – an all-round education which will now include teaching them professional skills that will serve them well throughout their lives. If schools are simply navigating students through their exams, then that young person is not being developed fully. In fact, up to 75 percent of their potential is being lost and that loss would be felt by us all: the schools sector, the student and business leaders.
Samantha Price is headmistress of Benenden School W: www.benenden.kent.sch.uk