My Lords, it is always a great pleasure to follow the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ely, who has done so much for Church schools.
I welcome the noble Baroness, Lady Bull, to your Lordships’ House and congratulate her on an excellent and moving maiden speech. It is wonderful to see people who have been so successful in the world of the arts joining your Lordships’ House. We have little in common in our backgrounds—I have been a philistine businessman all my life—but I know that we share a birthday.
I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, for securing this debate. I am delighted to see that careers education finally seems to be taking a real leap forward. As the noble Lord said, this is thanks to the work of the Careers & Enterprise Company. I join my noble friend Lady Bottomley in congratulating and thanking my previous boss, the right honourable Nicky Morgan, for starting this initiative. I pay tribute, as my noble friend did, to Claudia Harris, who so ably runs the CEC, and to Christine Hodgson, who chairs it so well. As the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, said, Ofsted has recently reported some encouraging news, and the CEC has reported an improving picture across the eight Gatsby benchmarks which are so central to the Government’s career strategy.
It has been generally accepted wisdom for some time that the old-fashioned concept of careers counselling on its own was, for most pupils, a fairly ineffective way of giving careers advice. The best impact was through engagement with the world of work on active projects. McKinsey’s pan-European study some years ago showed that. The Education and Employers task force, which does such great work, has also shown that four or more encounters with the world of work mean that students are 86% less likely to become NEET. When one discusses young people’s experiences as a result of active involvement either in the workplace or with people from the world of work, one sees their eyes literally light up. It gives them a direct line of sight to the workplace and an understanding of why their studies are so important—indeed why they are at school at all.
As the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, said, the CEC is now in partnership with all LEPs. It has created a network of more than 2,000 schools and colleges and 2,000 business volunteers to ensure coherence in the way employers and schools engage with each other. That coherence is so important: co-ordination between employers, schools and colleges.
The noble Lord, Lord Storey, referred to the old-fashioned, part-time, unqualified careers adviser or careers teacher. I have long believed that, for this coherence and connection to work well, there needs to be one person in each school whose focus is on this and nothing else. Individual schools may find it hard to find the money for this, but the payback would be substantial. Some of them may find the money from local businesses to pay for such a person to help that co-ordination. In my experience, I have never found businesses slow to come forward once you ask them, but often they just do not know how to engage.
In my multi-academy trust, we have a central person responsible for what we call educational enrichment, which covers a wider range of extra-curricular activities: in careers, engaging with a host of industries, work experience, speakers, work and university visits and engaging with all those charities which provide free help to schools on careers, such as Business in the Community, the highly successful Business Class, Speakers for Schools, which the noble Baroness, Lady Bull, mentioned, Primary Futures and Outward Bound trips.
We particularly like to send our students on trips—for instance, one of our primary school classes went on a trip to Rome this summer—and on Outward Bound courses, because taking pupils out of their home environment greatly enhances their world-view. Studies in the USA have shown consistently for many years that such activities achieve the highest in building children’s self-confidence and self-esteem.
It is essential that schools focus on characteristics such as this—what the Sutton Trust calls essential life skills. Some call this character education. However it is described, it is so important. Indeed, Harvard has said that it is as important as academic qualifications. Characteristics such as resilience, teamwork, creativity, emotional intelligence, presentation and social skills have become even more important in the modern world, as our young people spend far too much time gazing at smartphones. These characteristics can be developed only by engaging in a broad range of activity delivered through extra-curricular activity and, in my schools, an extended school day.
Of course, the best way to help a student’s career is to give them a good education. Schools must always focus on giving their pupils a broad, knowledge-rich curriculum, that cultural capital, that world-view, which is particularly important for children who come from less advantaged backgrounds—homes where there are no books, for instance—because this greater knowledge and wider world-view substantially enhances students’ thinking and social skills. It gives them not just more to think about but more to talk about.
The noble Baroness, Lady Morris, in an, as always, inspirational speech, referred to work experience. I particularly mention the work of the Social Mobility Foundation, so ably run by David Johnston, which organises work experience for young people who do not have those parental social connections.
I share my noble friend Lady Bottomley’s optimism. I think we are seeing the beginning of a sea change in careers education, and I hope it will now go from strength to strength.