Oct 26

APPG for Education hosts second inquiry roundtable

On the 19th October, the APPG for Education hosted the second in a series of roundtable events as part of its inquiry in to how well British schools are preparing young people for their future careers. The roundtable focused on the availability, quality and effectiveness of current careers advice and guidance students receive from their schools. The debate was chaired by Andrea Jenkyns MP and followed an event on 13th October which examined where the focus should lie in schools between teaching academic subject knowledge and soft skills. The guests ranged from leaders in industry, to teachers and principals, Ofsted and career guidance counsellors.

The debate began with a focus on how businesses can align with schools to ensure that pupils are presented with the widest and highest quality selection of work experience placements.  An initial assertion was that more should be done to create relationships between schools and businesses. It was suggested that many companies and schools can form a relationship and then see it disappear due to something as simple as a change of staff in either side.  Some even commented that for businesses to gain access to schools the levels of bureaucracy must be eased; too many do not want to jump through hoops when they are already doing something to help. Others recommended that schools could offer businesses something in return, such as certificates or even have the students aid businesses in simple tasks year round.

Many answered with the fact that schools need specialists to play their part but they simply cannot afford full-time careers counsellors and the role is often fulfilled by a librarian or even kitchen staff.  Schools no longer have to offer careers guidance and so many have prioritised other areas – it was suggested that compulsory work experience should return but some queried how this would be funded. Another issue was that of geography; for schools in London finding a partner business is much easier than those in less metropolitan areas.

The debate then moved on to the effectiveness of career guidance in its current form.  It was suggested that the introduction of careers guidance in regular lessons has been to the detriment of the pupils and careers guidance in general, but this was met with strong rebuke by other participants who argued that having separate careers guidance left students confused as to how to apply it to what they were learning.  Many suggested testing and quantifying the success of work experience placements, to determine how well young people benefited from different experiences.

The debate concluded with a series of concrete recommendations from the guests, which will now form part of the final report of the inquiry. The third, and final, roundtable will be held on 22nd November and will examine Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) education and how well our education system is equipping young people for careers in these key fields.

Oct 20

APPG for Education holds first inquiry roundtable

At the start of the summer, the APPG for Education launched an inquiry in to how well British schools are preparing young people for their future careers. The APPG began this process by collecting written evidence from parents, teachers, employers and academics and has since arranged round-table evidence sessions focusing on three key areas: where the balance should lie between teaching knowledge-centric education and soft skills; the quality and effectiveness of current careers advice and guidance; and finally, a discussion of whether schools should prioritise the study of STEM subjects.

On the 13th October, the first of these round-table discussions took place in Parliament. The session focused on the aforementioned balance between subject knowledge and softer skills and the debate was chaired by Danny Kinahan MP, Chair of the APPG for Education.  Participants ranged from teachers and academics to parents and employers, and included: the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, the British Council, the Institute of Education, Capita, the Institute of Customer Service, National Citizen Service Trust, the National Literacy Trust and the Parents’ Union, several universities and the Times Educational Supplement.


The debate concentrated on three central topics: whether there is a need for better soft skills education; who should be responsible for teaching those skills; and some examples of best practice that others could learn from.

There was lively debate throughout but perhaps the most vociferous discussions were centred on how the teaching of soft skills should be delivered.  Some participants emphasised the need for soft skills to be taught in a subtle way as part of wider academic subject education– stressing that soft skills, such as communication and critical thinking, would naturally be enhanced through knowledge based teaching. Others felt that that students do not enjoy the teaching of soft skills in the abstract and it can even negatively affect performance.

However, many members of the roundtable countered with the point that the UK’s economy is dominated by the service industry and so soft skills are becoming more important as interaction with others supplants technical knowledge as the key skill for work.

Others summarised the situation by claiming that hard skills are becoming softer whilst soft skills become harder – demonstrating that a blended approach to teaching knowledge and skills may be the best approach moving forward.

Other participants highlighted that soft skills are hard to measure and the testing of such skills cannot be too prescriptive. The teaching of knowledge through pre-packaged gobbets of information was to the detriment of students’ abilities to garner soft skills. Therefore, for the success of the blended teaching approach, it seems that overly prescriptive teaching methods must be forgone.

Sep 19

APPG for Education addressed by Sir David Carter, National Schools Commissioner

On Tuesday 6th September, the APPG for Education hosted Sir David Carter, the National Schools Commissioner. Sir David provided the Group with his thoughts on the development of academies policy and an update on the work of Regional Schools Commissioners.

Sir David began by describing his 32 years in schools, as a music teacher, headteacher, Principal of John Cabot City Technology College, and CEO of the Cabot Learning Federation. He described in particular the educational inequality evident in the system during his time as headteacher, which provided the stimulus for the creation of the Cabot Learning Federation. Sir David concluded his opening remarks by outlining the three most important drivers of improvement in school: great teaching, the quality of leadership, and collaboration, before opening the floor to questions.

Danny Kinahan MP, Chair of the APPG for Education, with Sir David Carter, National Schools Commissioner

Danny Kinahan MP, Chair of the APPG for Education, with Sir David Carter, National Schools Commissioner

In response to a question on the strategic role of larger MATs, Sir David Carter said that, as National Schools Commissioner, he had brought in oversight of larger trusts. He said that the strategic role of larger MATs was to build in system capacity. Danny Kinahan MP, Chair of the APPG for Education, asked about training teachers for leadership. Sir David expressed his belief that leadership development in schools is now better than at any time in the past. The challenge is to incentivise the best leaders to work in the most challenging areas where their skills are most needed.

Greg Watson from GL Assessment shared his observations on the barriers to growth for smaller MATs, highlighting a lack of skills, poor visibility and transparency of opportunities to grow, and the perception of risk in taking on failing schools. He asked how the National Schools Commissioner could help smaller trusts to overcome these barriers. Sir David said that he expected more leadership talent to enter the system from outside the teaching sector in the future. On visibility and transparency, Sir David described the Regional Schools Commissioners’ role in building networks and stressed the importance of building capacity ahead of need.

Nic Dakin MP asked how, practically, the academies system would help schools in his constituency of Scunthorpe. Sir David explained that the central purpose of the system was to improve failing or underperforming schools. The success of the system will be judged not only on whether it can improve schools, but also on how well it prevents those schools from slipping back. Sir David also expressed his hope that the academies system would drive a shift away from school-by-school accountability to a more systemic accountability model.

In response to a question about accountability and parental engagement from Michelle Wildman of PTA UK, Sir David said that every parent should be able to hold the school their child attends to account but that being a parent governor was not the only way to do this. He also related his own experience of meeting parent groups as National Schools Commissioner. Sir David also fielded a question on industry support for academies from Caroline Wright of BESA. He said that industry has an important role in sharing skills and expertise and participating in academy boards.

Laura-Jane Rawlings from Youth Employment UK said that there was an expectation that academies would facilitate a move toward more holistic learning, which has so far not materialised. She asked what the National School Commissioner could do to support a proliferation of more holistic learning. Sir David said that there is still work to be done in that area but gave some examples of what is currently happening. He also stated his belief that academies do have greater capacity to deliver a more holistic learning experience.

Steven Abrahams from Groupcall asked Sir David to expand on an earlier comment about the richness of data available in the current system. Sir David said that there is more data available now than ever before and schools and teachers are better at analysing that data. The challenge is to make sure that teachers are using that data insight to best effect.



Patrick Hayes from BESA relayed some findings from research carried out by a member organisation that found very negative impressions of multi academy trusts amongst teachers and asked how MATs will win over the profession. Sir David said that there is a suspicion that MATs are a vehicle for business but that this will be assuaged as more teachers work in MATs and experience the way they operate first hand.

Steve McCabe MP asked about the justification for single-academy trusts if the system is centred on the benefits of synergy and collaboration. Sir David said that questions have to be asked about the educational viability of single academies if they don’t have access to a wider pool of resources. He did however say that he understood the necessity of single-academy trusts in rural settings and explained that it is possible for them to provide a good quality of education.

Danny Kinahan MP finished with a question about early years provision, before thanking Sir David and those who participated in the Q&A.

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