Using schools careers governors to unlock the skills based future

 Current careers education in schools is largely focused on persuading 50% of leavers to mortgage their futures by incurring student debts that many will never repay to spend three years (or more) acquiring a degree in the belief that it will enhance their earning potential. UCAS (the University admissions clearing service) has a turnover of about £50 million a year. That should be multiplied several time over to include the spend of Universities on their outreach programmes. By contrast the Careers & Enterprise Company, tasked to support schools with balanced careers advice from all sources, including employers, both local and national, turns over less than £25 million.

After the Conservative Party Conference Ben Blackmore posted a proposal for Careers Governors in the “New Ideas” section of the site of the Conservative Policy Forum, the party’s in-house Think Tank. I have tested the idea with various groups. All liked it – including because it can be implemented immediately within existing legislation and policy. One is working up a proposal for Cyber Governors. Another is thinking of STEM Governors. Another of Green Governors.

The guest blog produced by Ben is below. I will separately blog on the case for Cyber Governors.

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Could a small change in English Governing structures within secondary schools unlock the skill-based economy we strive for? With the turbulence within the energy and bond markets, one could be forgiven to overlook educational reform. But the crux of those issues lay at the heart of a deeper one. A gentle timebomb that will impact us all, exposing the nation to the winds of international pressure, I’m of course referring to the skills gap. Like the energy markets we are suffering from an unbalanced distribution and in order to address it we must look to the source.

The Baker clause, which since 2018 has required schools to give their pupils access to information about technical education providers, has until now, often been ignored. However, the Skills and Post-16 Education Act received Royal Assent this year it has finally been made legally enforceable. Due to this DfE has also launched a consultation on new guidance for schools. This guidance, intended to come into force in 2023, includes a prescriptive ladder of intervention designed to support them to implement the clause while also sanctioning those who routinely fail to meet their legal duty.

This addresses that fact according to the Youth Voice Census Report made in 2019 highlighted that only 27% of students have had apprenticeships discussed with them five

times or more. While the rate for university discussion was double this, leading to only 6% of 16-year-olds and 9% of 17-year-olds planning an apprenticeship as their next step. Despite the fact that UK men with a higher technical (level 4) qualification earn on average £5,100 more at age 30 than those with a degree (level 6), for women achieving a higher technical (level 5) qualification, the difference is £2,700.

The Gatsby Benchmarks outline the standards of excellence required to provide good career advice provision and point 8 of their report outlines that every school should have a member of their Governing body who has a remit to encourage employer engagement and to take a strategic interest in career guidance. However, the statutory guidance for schools and

guidance for further education colleges and sixth form colleges that broadly follows these recommendations omits that one. Why?

School Governors are essential to the success of any school, caring pillars of the community that invest their time to ensure that school leadership is held to account. But they suffer from being drawn from a very limited subsection of our communities. A poll by the National Governance Association (NGA) found that 93% of school Governors are white, while just 1% are black, a further 1% are of mixed ethnicity and 3% are Asian. The remainder are “other” or prefer not to say. While there isn’t any available data on the educational background I wouldn’t take a bet beyond 90% having a university education.

Schools are facing new and serious regulatory changes outside of their comfort zone and they will need the support of a new wave of Governors from more diverse backgrounds to provide the insight, skill, and Governance needed to achieve excellence. Traditional Governance recruitment routes are tired and well-worn, even with improvements in digital advertisement. We need a new Governor’s role and a call to action to ensure success, luckily there are organisations in the wings waiting to hear the call such as the employers already involved with the STEM hubs.

There are over 30,000 STEM Ambassador volunteers who are already in the position to help guide our schools to a better place. This isn’t about dictating children’s life choices it’s about providing enough information so they can make informed choices about their future. While the Baker clause provides the regulatory framework for change the true success of the regulation can only be measured in how it fundamentally changes the culture towards information about technical education within schools and career Governors could be the vanguard to achieve this.



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