What is the purpose of education? Are schools places in which children and young people are introduced to the great fields of knowledge – artistic, scientific, creative, mathematical, technical, cultural and linguistic – and encouraged to think for themselves, or are they, more prosaically, a place in which the workers of the future are prepared to take their place in the national economy? If that is our main purpose, then the recent report which claimed that almost two thirds of young people working in the fields of science, technology and engineering believe that schools do not understand – or deliver – the skills they are going to need, is worrying indeed.
Perhaps, as ever, the truth lies somewhere between these two extremes. I personally adhere to the view that a good education is of value in and of itself regardless of future career options; I’ve frequently had to defend my history degree on that basis! However, as schools we must not be immune to the needs of wider society and we do have a responsibility to give our pupils the skills needed to thrive in the wider world. In STEM-specific matters, our own investment of over £750,000 in developing our facilities for engineering and physics over the last two years shows a genuine commitment to addressing the skills gap in this area as does our long-standing commitment to the engineering in schools project and our recent entry in the GreenPower F24 challenge.
We do, however, focus on the wider area of skill development too. The annual public speaking competition, for example, requires pupils to exercise a skill much valued by employers. The Year 12 project and the social enterprise programme we shall introduce in September, to replace the Young Enterprise scheme, both focus on the entrepreneurial skills which are also prized by employers. Careers advice is also offered through the Year 11 Employability Award, work experience, employer speed networking and the ‘Day in the Life of’ scheme.
The schools also offer many opportunities to develop leadership skills and initiative – largely, though not exclusively, through the outdoor education programme.
In each of these ways, a good education makes for employable young people, in whatever field they choose to explore. And to help them make the right choices, we have a first-rate careers programme which clearly understands the need for schools to work alongside the wider world of employment. Last week’s conference in school which brought together representatives from business, higher education and over 20 city schools to focus on bridging the gap between the classroom and the workplace is a perfect example of that. The breakfast targeted the eight career benchmarks set out by the Gatsby Foundation which are hoped to become the national standard for good careers guidance following a very successful pilot in the region. Discussion of how education can link to employment in every subject shows not only that Dame Allan’s is in the vanguard of thinking in this area but also that there is a middle way between the ivory towers of academia and the day-to-day life of the workplace; one which allows us properly to prepare our pupils for their futures. And that, surely, is the purpose of education.