As Schools Commissioner visiting schools across England for the past 2 years, my brief was to ‘close the gap’. As it turns out there are many gaps in education: the gap in standards achieved by those on free school meals and the rest, the gap between secondary and primary schools, the gap between the independent and state sectors, the gap between academic and vocational education.
We are making progress on all of these and we must, children only have one chance. 600+ sponsored academies are raising standards in the most disadvantaged communities. The proliferation of all-through schools and federations of primary and secondary schools are ensuring a seamless transition between years 6 and 7. Independent/state school partnerships are developing apace as sponsors and private schools collaborate.
My focus now is on the vocational/academic divide as I work with the Baker Dearing Trust. There is momentum: the Tech Bacc recently announced, Studio Schools increasing in number and finally university technical colleges (UTC) are in the news which must be good for children and good for Britain. Matthew Parris’ recent article on the JCB Academy stirred public awareness of this significant programme to deliver high quality technical education.
The problem is clear and pressing as there is another gap: the skills gap between UK and other competitor countries:
27% of UK companies offer apprenticeships (80% in Germany)
58% of UK employers are worried about the mismatch between skills needed and available
UK is short of 40,000 STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) graduates.
It doesn’t have to be like this. I listened recently to superb presentations from entrepreneurs like Julie White, MD of D-Drill “construction is sexy!”, Rachael Carr, Apprentice of the Year 2011, outstanding now but who hated school, Steve Holliday CEO National Grid “there is a huge demand for high skill levels in STEM subjects”. They will lead and inspire us to close the gap but we need practical steps for students who want to study vocational courses and widespread understanding that we must make this possible through strategic partnerships between education and industry.
Up the pace; our industry needs it, our young people need it; focus on quality pathways and while we are at it, no geographical gaps in provision either. We need UTCs in the Northeast. Collaboration between industry and university partners is delivering and more will follow as Lord Baker leads the charge.