Today Lord Puttnam opens the new Studio West School in West Denton, Newcastle. This marks the launch of a new type of education for our young people – one that offers them an introduction to the world of work that isn’t available in any other school in our city.
The school aims to prepare young people for the world of work, and also gives local businesses a much bigger role in shaping the skills of students.
Our education system has to deliver the basics of literacy and numeracy, but it also needs to be develop the employability skills that will help our young people get the work they want.
The students of today are the employees of tomorrow, and they need to be equipped with skills and knowledge that are relevant and related to the real world.
As well as being taught academic, vocational and practical skills, students at Studio West have regular placements at local companies. What’s more, businesses have a direct input into the school’s culture and curriculum and post-16 students are guaranteed two days a week on placement – paid to develop the skills young people lack.
It’s a far cry from the obligatory two weeks of work experience of years gone by, where an unfortunate student would file papers and make the tea. That’s not to say it has always been a bad experience but, more often than not, the relationship was one which employers endured, rather than saw as an investment.
Ask any employer whether they would choose a school leaver with meaningful experience of a curriculum designed to shape them for a life in a business, or one who has no experience outside the school gates and they will certainly opt for the former.
Like it or not, a new employee at any level requires some level of investment in time to become familiarised with a business. This is never more the case than when someone is coming into their first job, so a degree of understanding about the professionalism and demands of a workplace can make a big difference.
Stronger relationships between business and education work both ways. Young people gain more substantial experience that will prove more valuable at the point of moving into work, allowing them to be better informed about the options available to them.
Businesses open up a greater dialogue with educators, helping them to shape a curriculum, which works not only for the students, but for the employers who want to dip into that pool to find new talent to grow their enterprises.
As we see change continue to emerge in the education system, through the growth in academies and other forms of school management, more should look at the real post-16 needs of their students and ask themselves “how can we add value?” Taking a look at schools, such as Studio West, would be a good start.
Jeremy Middleton is founder of Middleton Enterprises, a £50m investment company based on Tyneside. He is also a board member of the North East Local Enterprise Partnership and a Business Governor at Studio West.