Whatever the Comprehensive Spending Review might bring, young people require clear signposts to success and fulfilment, says Eileen Devonshire
As the education community come to terms with the outcomes of the Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR) in the coming weeks, watchwords are likely to include “cautious optimism” from the winners against a background of energetic resistance from other quarters.
We were warned that equal measures of economic realism and social responsibility would be at the heart of the Coalition Government decisions, and that is how those in education will inevitably measure their impact on community partnerships, innovation and excellence.
Success over the period of the Coalition will require a significant degree of candour in the economic and education debates currently raging between sometimes competitive communities in the public and private sectors. Not least where jobs are at a premium and funding is more thinly distributed than in recent years.
For education these ought to include:
- credibility and focus of leadership at local, national and international levels;
- the importance of evidence and its impact on future learning pathways;
- a unified set of perspectives as to the nature and scope of the knowledge and skills most in demand for the 21st century;
- a match between distinctiveness and/or complementarity of services provided for learners and their actual needs;
- creative and imaginative ways to support young people in business and enterprise opportunities that can win buy-in from business, parents, teachers and the young people themselves;
- accountability of the various innovative routes for moving learners forward for further study where they are not choosing university;
- matching “accountability and responsibility” to “freedom and trust” when it comes to the communications technology available for learning through life.
‘If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it’
A recognised mantra from the private sector warns, ‘If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it’. In business, experience and measurable models of success keep things simple and focused where imagination, creativity and quality are keys to award-winning products and services. Success is invariably measured by results from customers based on initial returns and profitability through to sustainability, so it has always been relatively straightforward to differentiate between levers and drivers for sustainable success of a business.
At a time when communities are calling for closer co-operation and knowledge sharing between business and education it might be worthwhile to reflect on what success will look like for young people and for employers in the next 10 years. Understandably, straightforward business practice is not necessarily an easy fit across education, althought potentially there are common factors. For example, in respect of innovative models of learning and teaching we have a collective understanding of what the essential components are. And we also acknowledge that we must measure accurately and moderate to reflect the competence and achievement of all those involved in the learning journey of our young people, including parents and teachers.
As increased fees impact on the appeal of a university education we owe it to young people to integrate our understanding of what success looks like for them overall. We need to more urgently define the context of complex learning journeys over a lifetime and have confidence that associated funding streams will be sustained and sustainable if large numbers of young people simply choose a work-related career from the outset thus requiring a cut-and-paste approach to their learning investment requirement over a lifetime.
The price for such clarity could even be modulated as an “education exchange rate” for each person’s commitment to their education experience as a whole. A mechanism that credits innovation, creativity, input, output and impact to ensure we also embrace the tacit requirement for transparent moderation of public sector investment over each of our lifetimes.
UK economic recovery will depend on the 'manufacturing renaissance'
I too feel that the UK’s economic recovery will depend on the “manufacturing renaissance” referred to by Vince Cable and George Osborne. And I believe a wholly new and imaginative approach is required for all education communities to embrace the contribution of business and education partnerships, many of which include creative and enterprising opportunities for learners and their family members already.
The achievements and competences necessary to embark on and succeed in a “skills for life” journey are equally complex, compelling and fulfilling when compared to those required for a life spent in formal study. And I believe it would be inauspicious to focus wholly on a knowledge economy without the counter-balance of a thriving and sustainable approach to life skills, creativity, crafts and technological innovations. Education, enterprise and trade are synonymous with a sustainable society – an ecosystem of reliance and responsibility can add value where funds are in short supply!
Opportunities which are informed and shaped by the voices of learners as well as parents, teachers and the wider community will also be welcomed by many in the private sector. Any unnecessary delay in the various reviews across Government could mean that yet another generation of young people will have to forgo a vocational choice should we wait too long for any deliberations.
If pupil performance and equity were to become integrated into structural reform plans we could witness more swiftly the impact of policy changes intended to stimulate success in the UK educational system overall. Such innovation will be viewed by many parents as a welcome ambition given that it could lead to employment opportunities on a much more ambitious scale than currently exists for those already disenfranchised.
There is no doubt the education and business communities have the courage and the commitment to pursue the unknown with imagination and determination for the sake of future generations. But the roll-out of the academies and new schools initiatives will require a more diverse economy for learner support than has yet been fully realised, whether that be via international mentoring schemes or work placements.
'When will Entrepreneur become a category for 14-19s?'
I have long supported the right of learners to help shape the society we are expecting them to support and I am further convinced that ensuring we embrace difference and diversity of the routes for such success we will provide a learning landscape fit for a 21st century workforce. I have a concern however that pace and place of such ambitions are mismatched across the country and further inequality could ensue. I am ever hopeful for an entry for “Entrepreneur” on Direct Gov with respect to 14-19s in order to join up the dots of aspiration and opportunity in government listings online!
I have been, and remain, a fan of the original ‘for schools, by schools’ model of shared development championed by Andrew Adonis (a former minister for schools) and developed through the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust (SSAT). But I am an example of someone who, thanks to a brief spell at an East London grammar school, overcame challenges to succeed in life thus far. I would caution against any solution being the only choice available to the most disaffected of our young people because it has been my experience that the point at which you embark on a journey and the point where you can depart can be miles apart! And this leaves a gap between aspiration and achievement for the most disadvantaged throughout their lifetime.
Perhaps it is time to invest a little in prolonged studies for a future yet to be imagined, irrespective of outcome, to secure ‘a treasure map’ for those learners with the entrepreneurial spirit of adventure and enquiry so often at the crux of innovation yet without the equity of opportunity of others. In this endeavour I would encourage the involvement of the UK games industry with a challenge to pursue such an ambition.
Education a bus to nowhere if learners can't see routes
Whatever the outcome of the Comprehensive Spending Review, the most important single measure of success for the least privileged will be that which motivates people forward and sustains their interest and engagement to the point of fulfillment of personal goals and a successful life. Many learners from the least advantaged backgrounds still view education as a bus to nowhere because no one has been able to map out their routes!
While I accept the urgency with which the Government is pursuing its spending review, my plea is for equal urgency to improve the social mobility of all learners along the journey. We have come a long way in the provision of a broad range of routes to personal achievement for all learners – I am hopeful that yet again the education community will respond positively so that we won’t simply defer the life chances of yet another generation during this spending round and post-election fervour!
After 25 years in the business of education and striving to realise the democratisation of learning through the innovative adoption of technology in schools and colleges, I am still excited by the opportunities.
I am confident that teachers want the best for their pupils and parents and carers strive tirelessly to support the ambitions of children wherever possible. I continue to have hope and faith for a future where we resist writing the ending before the children have their say and where poverty will cease to be a bar to such opportunity.
Eileen Devonshire is an education business analyst. She has held key positions in a leading trade association and in public sector media, more recently working with DfE and key ICT companies in the field.