Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 20 September 2014

CBI urges schools to forge better links with employers

The CBI is calling for better career advice

The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) in Northern Ireland has published a critical review of the outworking of relations between schools and employers. Put simply, too many young people are ill-prepared for the job market when they finish full-time education. Advice and guidance offered in the schools is sometimes not given sufficient priority in school activities.

The CBI is moving away from the frequently quoted league tables of examination achievements. The focus is on a wider range of issues where the CBI combines a series of critical comments on careers advice with a number of positive suggestions on the ways in which employers can, and should, be more supportive of the challenges faced by schools.

In support of a major reform in the partnerships between schools and employers, the CBI has relied on a careful first-hand critique of how partnerships (or sometimes the absence of partnerships) are working. The evidence collected by the CBI is critical of the quality of careers advice to many students, is critical of the understanding in some schools of the changing nature and qualifications needed for many jobs, and is concerned that senior business people should play a larger role in assisting the governance of schools.

Many school principals will have mixed responses to the ideas now advanced by the CBI.

Few will dissent from actions to better prepare students for fulfilling employment when they seek jobs. However, some will qualify their response by asking the CBI to appreciate that schools are much more than a place where people become equipped to gain employment. The evidence does point to scope for a greater appreciation of the life-fulfilling needs of students, too many of whom could be better informed and more positively motivated.

The CBI has some suggestions on how the CBI and its members can become more active in improving their contribution to schools, their governance and relating to links with teachers.

Kirsty McManus – the assistant director of the CBI – says it will work with members to:

* Pledge that 100 business leaders would be willing to act as school governors

* Provide mandatory work experience for young people, which should be more than one week, over the summer or mid-term breaks

* Work with the CCEA (the examinations authority) to ensure that qualifications are fit for purpose

* Foster a school in-year with strategic support in governance, performance management and leadership, as well as supporting a 'teachers in industry' programme

* Pilot a 'buddy system' for head teachers and chief executives.

The suggested buddy system has been successfully tested elsewhere. It has the potential to be a high-profile mechanism to help head teachers facing complex management and personnel problems. It may also bring inter-disciplinary advice on difficult issues to CEOs.

The advice from the CBI on relations between the schools and employers is sharpest in a review of the evidence on the availability of career advice in schools and the qualifications and relevance of the teachers who carry this as a particular responsibility.

It seems only a marginal exaggeration to read the comments as critical of the current system as sometimes offering students too few advisory opportunities, sometimes offering advice which is not fully up-to-date, and asking teachers to accept this responsibility who do not have contemporary accredited training experience.

In support of careers advice within schools, the CBI adds a recommendation that 'all year 10, year 12 and year 13 students should have an interview with a careers adviser from DEL', as a statutory obligation.

The CBI has been helped by a professional review sponsored by Northern Ireland Electricity and Capita and converted into a clear articulated agenda by KPMG.

This is both a useful critique and a constructive series of suggestions. Further support from the Minister of Education, John O'Dowd, is now under consideration...

The evidence points to scope for a greater appreciation of our students' life-fulfilling needs. Many could be better informed and positively motivated

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