Equipping pupils with skills for the future

Richard Backhouse, Berkhamsted School8 out of 10 school-leavers in the UK “lack essential business skills”, according to the CIMA. This conclusion is concerning if the UK is to prosper in a post-Brexit open competition with the rest of the world, even if we allow a little leeway  for our national tendency to conclude regularly that teenagers aren’t what they used to be.

Gloomy forecasts may be premature, however. Independent schools have led the way in pursuing a broad education which leads not just to excellent qualifications at 16 and 18, but also to pupils acquiring skills which will serve them well after school in work. This larger version of education is so sought after abroad that families send their children to the UK to experience it, and schools which export it are able to show that their overseas schools can provide it too.

The breadth and innovation which characterise independent schools continues to give cause for optimism. At Berkhamsted, we’ve developed a Mini-MBA with Ashridge Executive Education, which is part of Hult International Business School – in the global top 25 providers of executive education according to the FT. In this course, pupils begin with a compulsory module in which they assess their personality and its effect on the way they present themselves. They learn how to be adaptable, what posture it’s appropriate to adopt in different contexts, before they may opt to go on and study all the elements which a full-scale MBA would include. Together these represent the two strands CIMA say young people are lacking.

We go further than this: our pupils also offer free business consultancy to charities and local government, in a scheme which we developed in association with the Oxford University Careers Service. Through this, our pupils have offered business consultancy that has made a difference in the locality. This sits alongside a programme of community service, through which last year’s A level leavers gave over 2600 hours of voluntary work in their last year at school. All these develop exactly the skills in our leavers which CIMA’s members will be seeking in their recruits.

Why does this matter? Because the work done last year in the Student Consultancy at Berkhamsted is now being rolled out in more schools by Oxford, and it seems likely to be adopted increasingly widely. Similarly, we believe that the Mini-MBA concept will prove popular with others following the path we’ve pioneered.

This business education sits, of course, alongside the people-skills developed in the Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme, competitive sport, high quality drama and music, a Combined Cadet Force, and all the other things which Berkhamsted has in common with so many other independent and maintained sector schools.

‘Leading Independent Schools’ may be a phrase that’s familiar to us. Its familiarity shouldn’t stop us from celebrating that this leadership has potential to be of value to independent and maintained sectors, and therefore over time to our workforce, whatever the competition post-Brexit.

By Richard Backhouse, Principal of Berkhamsted School