Nov 24

APPG for Education hosts third inquiry roundtable

On 22nd November 2016, the APPG for Education hosted the third and final discussion 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 what is required to increase the uptake of Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths, the so called STEM subjects, as well as how to increase the number and quality of STEM teachers and possible ways to transform the gendered nature of STEM subjects to encourage more female uptake. The discussion was chaired by Carol Monaghan MP, a former physics teacher and the SNP’s Westminster Education Spokesperson.  It followed two roundtables in October that featured discussions examining where the focus should lie in schools between teaching academic subject knowledge and soft skills, and the availability, quality and effectiveness of current careers advice and guidance students receive from their schools. The APPG welcomed guests from industry, assessment boards and the teaching profession.

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One of the main focuses of debate was the role that early specialisation plays in children prioritising other subjects ahead of STEM. It was argued that many nations across the world do not require young students to take as many examinations as the British and that their examinations are less narrowly focussed. However, this was countered by members of examination boards and Ofqual, who stated emphatically that this was not the case; it was stressed that A Levels are far from atypical. This was generally accepted but many still emphasised the issue of specialisation at younger ages, with the Key Stage One and Two examinations referenced most often. It was recommended by various members that the Key Stage examinations should include an element of science that they currently lack.

The perceived gendered nature of STEM subjects was anticipated to be a catalyst for enthusiastic debate and this proved to be the case. It was advanced that women and girls self-deselect from STEM subjects and that a way to alleviate this is to open up students’ eyes to the possible career options that go far beyond stereotypical images of engineering. However, it was argued that this was not necessarily just a school problem but more of a societal one that requires wider solutions. This was evidenced by the fact that the uptake of physics by females has remained constant over the last thirty years, despite many policy and curriculum changes.

The final issue that attracted considerable debate was that of the lack of teachers.  It was suggested that only forty percent of the required number of STEM subject teachers were available and that was a root cause of the issues the country faces when it comes to STEM. Currently, unqualified teachers fill those gaps and the students suffer as a result, leading to less enthusiasm for STEM. Some participants suggested that teachers take night-time training on one of a number of free courses but those within schools responded by stating that teachers are already operating on limited schedules. Others suggested that academies must pay the teachers what they deserve to correct this. It was also recommended that STEM subjects should be taught more widely at primary school level.

This concluded the debate and the series of roundtable in general. Having already collected written evidence, the APPG will now produce a report and recommendations to government, for publication early in 2017.

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.

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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.

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