As employment becomes an ever greater priority we need to ask “What will best equip our pupils to enter the labour market?”

It strikes me that schools are faced with a dilemma. On the one hand, Michael Gove is dragging education towards the grammar school model that he benefitted from; meanwhile parents, pupils and industry are demanding better preparation for the workplace. 

Last week, new research on the graduate employment market, from High Fliers Research Ltd., showed that 37 per cent of this year’s graduate jobs at the UK’s top employers will go to graduates who’ve already worked for the organisation before. “And recruiters from more than half the leading companies in the country have warned that graduates who’ve not had any work experience at school or university have little or no chance of landing a job offer after graduation.”

The pattern seems pretty clear; that a combination of workplace and practical experience is the best preparation for employment. Some universities are cottoning-on to the importance of employment statistics as a factor in undergraduate recruitment whilst others remain resolutely wedded to classical academia. Let’s hope there is a place for both.

Quality apprenticeships seem to be returning and there are some excellent schemes emerging which enable school leavers to enter a profession and progress through professional exams without going to university.

Schools have a role to play and we are working our way through this new landscape of opportunity. This week we launched a new course in partnership with Newton Rigg College of Agriculture in Penrith, just 20 minutes up the motorway from Sedbergh. Using their specialist lecturers and facilities, Sedbergh pupils will be able to study agriculture in combination with regular A levels.

Aspirant vets can combine the course with Biology, Chemistry and another A level giving them a level of practical experience described as “Gold Dust” by one university admissions tutor. Others who want to study Land Economy or Agricultural Economics will also find themselves ahead of their peers. 

This is the second such course we have piloted and follows the success of the BTEC Diploma in Sports Management that we started two years ago. Amongst other universities, Loughborough welcomes pupils who have this element of practical study within their portfolio of qualifications.

Sandwich Courses have been popular in some universities for many years. One wonders when the first school will introduce a three-year Sixth Form with the middle year spent studying overseas or in employment. It will be interesting to see just how far this hybrid model of education will progress.

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