The 21st century economy is, increasingly, a knowledge economy. From advanced manufacturing through to healthcare, from digital creativity through to transport logistics, technological change means that success depends on higher level skills.
Over the past generation, as routine and repetitive jobs have been replaced by computers and technology, the premium is on developing young people to high levels of skill. The most successful economies of the 21st century will be those most able to prepare their young people for complex and intellectually demanding jobs.
Yorkshire education has some outstanding elements. The county’s diverse universities are amongst the country’s best. There are outstanding schools and exceptional teachers.
But, overall, education is simply too patchy. Attainment levels lag behind the national average. Too few young people – and especially disadvantaged young people – are in good or outstanding schools.
Sheffield Hallam University is one of the country’s largest, most diverse and most ambitious universities.
We know that we can create fabulous opportunities for the 30,000 young people – from over a hundred countries – we educate at any one time. We understand that there is a close connection between the long-term success of the university, the long-term success of the county and the long-term success of its schools.
That’s why I was delighted to be asked by the Government to chair the board for the Doncaster Opportunity Area – a major initiative to raise performance in the borough’s schools and to prepare young people for success in adult life.
But we at Sheffield Hallam know we can do more – and we are now committed to support improvements in education for young people.
Today, along with the Government’s Minister for Children and Families, Robert Goodwill MP, we will be launching a major programme to lead improvement for the region’s young people. We’ve called it South Yorkshire Futures.
We simply don’t believe that South Yorkshire’s young people are less capable of achieving than other young people. We don’t accept that we have less committed or motivated teachers and school leaders.
We know there is excellence. We know that there is outstanding practice. We think that the task is to create ways for that excellence to be spread throughout our schools – to unleash success: not in this school or that school, not for some children and young people, but for all schools and all young people. Ultimately – it doesn’t matter which school young people attend – their future matters equally to all of us.
South Yorkshire Futures is our programme to improve school attainment and raise aspirations across the region, supporting progression into higher education and work.
It’s supported by the Government. In addition to the Minister, the Government has seconded a senior civil servant to work with us on the programme.
South Yorkshire Futures is driven by our vision that we can succeed for all young people, enhancing opportunities, providing a secure basis for transition to adult life.
We will do this by building on existing programmes of work, working closely to identify new opportunities, delivering improved local and regional data analysis to identify areas of strength and need.
We are looking initially on three areas: on early years, where early success matters so much, on performance and leadership in primary and secondary education, and, finally, on routes in to higher education and work.
We are not naïve about the challenges our schools and teachers face, but as a university passionate about extending excellence and committed to creating opportunity, we think it is time to step up and lead.
South Yorkshire Futures is Sheffield Hallam’s response to one of the most important challenges this region faces: the challenge of creating excellence and opportunity for all our young people. It’s a measure of our commitment to the region.
We are not doing this because we believe that the University has all the answers – but because we want to work in close partnership with others who share our ambitions. South Yorkshire Futures is unique. No other university is doing anything remotely like it. It is an opportunity to address challenges in our region and make a positive, long-term, transformative impact on the lives of our young people.
We are determined that South Yorkshire Futures will make a difference.
Professor Chris Husbands is vice-chancellor of Sheffield Hallam University.