Long gone are the days when schools would exist in silos, cut off from the world of commerce, sending young people out the door at 16 to make their own way in the world.
All Saints Catholic High School
All Saints Catholic High School in Kirkby is an exemplar of the new generation of schools that are taking a dynamic approach to business engagement. Through its Business Partnerships programme it offers its students the best possible start to their working lives.
Assistant headteacher Margaret O’Neill heads up the school’s business engagement programme. She says the approach the school is now taking has significantly enhanced its reputation.
All Saints has established strong connections with the city region business community. In particular it has benefited from a solid relationship with Knowsley Chamber and its chief executive Lesley Martin-Wright.
“So much of what we do has been helped and supported by Knowsley Chamber,” said Ms O’Neill. “Lesley and the team have been fantastic in linking us up with the members of the chamber. We have then used that initial contact to establish really good relationships.
“Over the past four or five years we have looked to develop real business partnerships. That has to go beyond inviting in the occasional guest speaker. It means we look to create high quality opportunities for our students.
“This obviously involves periods of work experience for our students and it is also about raising aspirations through engagement with people from many different kinds of businesses. It is a set standard that students should engage with 20 businesses during their five years at the school. At All Saints, they can engage with 20 in a single year.”
Ms O’Neill has worked with two major employers in Knowsley – home shopping giant QVC and supermarket chain Morrisons. Students in Year 13 (aged 17-18) and Year 12 (16-17) are taking up part-time roles, paying around £10 an hour, with both companies while they continue with their studies.
Ms O’Neill explained: “So there is a real structure to what they are doing in those jobs in terms of training and development. At Morrisons, for example they are talking about apprenticeships right up to degree level. Our students have responded really positively to this programme.”
There are around 30 to 40 students involved in the programme and Ms O’Neill says All Saints is working towards expanding the initiative, adding: “We are always looking to engage with more businesses and expand the range of opportunities we can offer to our students.
“And this work has really contributed to the overall success of the school. We are now over-subscribed for the third year in a row. Everything is pointing towards a really positive future for the school and our students.”
In a world where the pace of change continues to accelerate it is more important than ever that young people are equipped with the capacity to be adaptable in life and in work.
And it is the most forward-thinking schools that recognise the importance of both academic achievement and the so-called softer skills that offer their students a platform to go out into the world, make their own way, and thrive.
In 2018, Halewood Academy in Knowsley launched its Future Female Leaders programme that has brought together young people at the school with mentors from the world of work and business in order to broaden their knowledge and build confidence and self-esteem.
Future Female Leaders is currently a programme targeted at girls, although there are plans in the pipeline to extend it to the boys in the school. Halewood Academy interim principal Josie Gallagher said the programme’s key aims were to expose the girls to real-life work environments and offer an insight into the reality of those environments.
Ms Gallagher explained: “Speaking as a female leader I know it is very common to see male leaders in educational environments. We wanted to expose the females in the school to industries so they could see for themselves and learn about how some are still male-dominated and things such as the gender pay gap.
“We want them to start thinking ahead about their own aspirations and how they want to go about fulfilling those aspirations. It is all about building confidence and self-esteem and being able to interact with people. We want them to see that adults are people just like them and they can approach them and talk to them.”
The outside mentors, who are drawn from a variety of backgrounds and business sectors are a critical element of the Future Female Leaders programme. And Ms Gallagher credits the schools careers manager, Lesley McCallum, with being the driving force in creating that network.
She added: “Lesley is a fantastic networker and she has gone out there to promote the school and the work that we do. As a result we have a group of strong female leaders, some who run their own businesses or who have built successful careers.”
Each academic year, 15 girls from the academy enter the programme and it begins with an event where the mentors will present and talk about their lives and journeys and how they got where they are. Then the girls themselves have to present – a scary prospect for most.
“Doing that presentation is the first hurdle for the girls,” said Ms Gallagher. “We ask them to stand up and talk about themselves. We actually ask them not to rehearse their presentations because we want to see exactly where they are at the beginning of the programme.
“This is the start of that process of building confidence and self-esteem. And it is amazing to watch them grow as the programme progresses. There are things we do every day as adults in our work that we take for granted. But there are some young people who have never sent an email. They have just texted. These skills have to be acquired.”
Once the programme is up and running the girls will meet regularly. They are encouraged to hold breakfast meetings to replicate the kinds of daily meetings they will encounter when they enter the workplace. They also attended real-life business networking events to test out their skills and continue to build their confidence.
They also organise regular charity fundraising events. They include support for the Megan Hurley Foundation. Megan, a student at the Halewood Academy, was just 15 when she was killed in the bombing of the Ariana Grande concert in May 2017.
“One of the great things about the programme is that not only do their girls receive support from the external mentors, they in turn go on to be mentors themselves to other students in the school,” added Ms Gallagher. “We have assemblies where they talk to the other young females who then know they have someone to approach for support.”
Although the programme has only been running for a couple of years, and faced disruption due to the pandemic, Ms Gallagher said it was already yielding tangible results. She explained: “We get thank you cards from girls who have moved on talking about how transformational the programme has been for them.
“They have been able to attend interviews for courses or for work placements and walk into the room knowing they are able to talk and interact with the other adults in the room. And they know they have worked hard to instil that confidence in themselves.”
Work will continue this academic year on the launch of a similar programme for the boys. Ms Gallagher says it won’t just be a carbon copy of the female programme. She will also pick up a project to take the programme to all schools in Knowsley, an idea that had to be put on hold due to the pandemic.
“One of the most important aspects of my role is to support the development and growth of the young people in my care,” she said. We have a fantastic group of mentors who want to give something back and it is amazing to see the girls grow and become so empowering to each other.”
Steve Smith, Raise the Bar
Of course learning and development doesn’t come to a grinding halt in your early 20s, or at least it shouldn’t do. With cultural, technological and structural change now accelerating, the concept of lifelong learning has never been more critical.
Steve Smith knows all about the challenge of constantly ‘raising the bar’, both metaphorically and literally. Until the age of 28, when a ruptured Achilles ended his athletics career, Steve was a world class high jumper.
He represented Great Britain at both the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona and the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta. At the latter event he won the bronze medal with a jump of 2.35m, becoming the first British competitor to win an Olympic medal in the high jump since Con Leahy in 1908.
Since his retirement in 1999 he has established a successful and renowned training and professional development business called, of course, Raise the Bar. Employing 55 people full-time it focuses primarily on three areas:
- It is one of the UK’s largest providers of motivational speakers and can call on high-profile figures from all walks of life and from across the world. They are drawn from areas such as sport, academia and business.
- It works with mainly large companies and organisations to provide their people with management and leadership skills and qualifications. Its courses come with recognised professional qualifications and can be short seminars or last up to two years.
- And the business also helps organisations to use their Apprenticeship Levy pot to fund the training and development of their management teams. Contrary to popular belief, apprenticeships are for people of any age and Raise the Bar’s programmes are focused on the development of people already established in their careers.
Steve said: “So often we see in organisations people who are really good at the technical side of a job promoted into management roles. And, too often, they don’t actually have any management or leadership skills. People assume they will just be able to do it but leadership is a skill like any other. It has to be learned.
“The biggest single reason why people leave their job is due to the relationship with their manager. And high staff turnover can have a negative impact on the company’s productivity and growth. They lose good people when they don’t need to.
“If their manager does not make them feel safe, feel valued and part of the team, does not communicate a vision, or communicate at all, does not inspire people, then teams can quickly become disengaged.
“It is one of the biggest skills gaps in the economy and it is one that needs to be addressed because, as we have all seen and experienced, the pandemic has accelerated the pace of change in the workplace. Basically, if your management and leadership skills haven’t changed in the last two years, then you are out of date.”
This leadership skills gap exists across all sectors, explained Steve. Raise the Bar works with a wide range of businesses and organisations – from Premier League football clubs, to banks, to retailers. He added: “ I remember the financial crash in 2008 when people were commenting on the pace of change then – they had no idea what was coming.”
The fundamental shifts in the way we work have not just impacted on Raise the Bar’s clients, but also on Raise the Bar itself. Steve said: “We were already used to using Zoom and Teams but, of course, the pandemic meant we had to stop face-to-face work altogether for a time.
“Obviously face-to-face meetings and courses have value, and they are returning. However, many businesses are now seeing how unnecessary so much business travel actually is.
“They might send people across the country, or overseas, for courses or meetings or seminars. People would spend significant amounts of time travelling to hotels, arriving tired and fed up, and then coming home late at night to their families.
“This can impact mental health and productivity. Many organisations are now starting to realise this and are now more mindful of their responsibilities to their people. Often an online meeting can make you focus better rather than getting distracted by something out of the window.”
It is now more than 20 years since Steve retired from elite sport but he says the things he learned during his athletics career remain relevant today. He added: “If you are part of a high performance team then you learn you can’t just keep doing the same thing over and over. You have to keep adapting and changing.
“My coach would always raise the height of the bar each time and it is the same principle in business. However, you also have to adapt the message when you are giving motivational talks. Some might relate to the sporting experience but others may not. It is all about storytelling and finding the right metaphor for your audience.”