Nicky Morgan: Giving children the right skills for modern life

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ENSURING that young people leave school or college prepared for life in modern Britain is a central tenet of the Government’s plan for education, and a vital part of our long-term economic plan for Britain.

It is the students of today who will be the workforce of tomorrow and on whom the future success of our economy – and everything that flows from that – will depend. That is why our plan will ensure that every young person learns the knowledge, skills and values they need to be able to leave school or college ready to fulfil their potential and succeed in life.

The Government has done a huge amount to raise standards in our schools. We now have a million more pupils in good and outstanding schools – more than ever before; 100,000 more six-year-olds are now on track to become confident readers because of our focus on phonics; the number of pupils taking core academic GCSEs is up by 60 per cent since 2009-10 thanks to the EBacc; and, critically, we now have the most highly qualified teaching profession ever, with more graduates from top universities choosing teaching than ever before.

While helping every child to master the basics is vital, I am clear that it is only the start. Schools and colleges have a broader role to play in preparing young people for adult life and it is widely acknowledged that careers provision in schools has long been inadequate.

Too often provision is patchy. Already busy schools and teachers do not always have the time to give this the focus they should. Meanwhile, many organisations – including employers – offer excellent programmes for young people. The challenge before us is how to ensure that every young person in every part of the country is given access to them.

I have consistently heard calls from both employers and schools and colleges to help them navigate this complex landscape and Christine Hodgson, chair of Capgemini UK and someone with a strong track record of developing young talent, will chair a new careers and enterprise company for schools. This will transform the provision of careers education and advice for young people and inspire them to take control of and shape their own futures.

The company will support much greater engagement between employers on one hand and schools and colleges on the other. It will ensure that young people get the inspiration and guidance they need to leave school or college ready to succeed in working life. It will be employer-led, but will work closely with the education and careers sectors.

The company will not itself be a direct delivery organisation, or act in competition with the many existing providers in the market. Instead, it will help schools, colleges, organisations and employers work together in partnership. The company will focus on the offer to young people, initially those aged 12 to 18. It will work closely with the National Careers Service, which will continue to support adults and young people and help the company to bring employers, schools and colleges together.

It will be for the new company’s board to set its own strategy but we envisage that it will do a number of things. It will use relationships with employers – private, public and third sector – to break down barriers between schools and colleges on the one hand and employers on the other, and increase the level of employer input into careers, inspiration and enterprise in all schools and colleges.

It will do that partly through a network of advisers who will broker strong and extensive links at local level. It will assist schools and colleges in choosing effective careers and enterprise organisations to partner with, including considering the use of quality marks. It will stimulate more and better activity in areas where the current provision is poorest. Last but not least, it will develop an enterprise passport to incentivise young people to participate in a wide range of extra-curricular activities that boost their appeal to employers.

The Government will support the new company with start-up funding in 2015-16, the cost of which will be met from the £20m announced in last week’s Autumn Statement. Some £5m of this will constitute an investment fund to support innovation and stimulate good practice across the country. In the longer term, the company will sustain itself.

I am confident that the plan will build on the excellent work that is already going on in some parts of the country, but will ensure it is replicated in every part of the country. It will herald a step change in the quality of careers inspiration, advice and guidance provided to all young people, paying no regard to ability, interest or background, and it will help to realise our ambition of ensuring that every child leaves school or college prepared for life in modern Britain.

We know that the ultimate success of our long-term economic plan for this country rests on the shoulders of the next generation, and we are backing them every step of the way.