The Skills Gap

The Debate

After the formal presentations, the speakers formed a panel and answered questions posed by the audience, on topics such as: practical work; scaling-up best practice; online delivery; direct interaction; and sector fragmentation.

A recent Ofsted report highlighted the worrying lack of quality and quantity of practical work in schools. That decline started before the pandemic, but nevertheless it represents a major risk in the education system, feeding into industry and the workplace.

We have an underfunded school system that does not have the teachers needed to deliver the quality of education needed by employers. However, there are many examples of excellent practice. We have to become much better at scaling-up these instances of great practice, identifying those people who are doing fantastic work and then curating and understanding it all. But it must be noted that best practice may not necessarily translate immediately from one context to another.

The shortage of teachers does not just concern Maths and English, there are other very difficult areas to recruit for as well, such as digital. Partly, it is a matter of location. If someone is based in Oxford, they will not want to travel to Guildford every day: indeed, the travel time becomes prohibitive. However, if they can deliver this specialist knowledge and its practical application online, that adds value to the learning experience for the students. Contextualising digital, explaining its relevance to careers and practical skills, actually ticks two boxes: equipping the learner with an understanding of digital but also the right skills for their industry.

Another way of tackling the shortage of teachers, and McLaren have been doing this recently, is liaising direct with local enterprises and other organisations, including educational establishments, and talking to them about difficult-to-fill posts, such as software engineers and coding engineers. That direct communication has proved very helpful and enabled the engineering firm to fill job roles locally.

One of the issues facing the skills agenda is huge fragmentation. There is a lot of money being spent on skills by companies, by a range of organisations, by Government, and so on. But it is not all working together particularly well. For example, a small business trying to recruit may find it a very confusing environment out there. May of the big tech companies such as Google, Microsoft, Amazon, Cisco, etc, have fantastic skills programmes but in the past they have not interacted at all on them. With Government and industry support, it may be possible to change this.