Mansfield school’s vision to ‘fix’ link between education and the world of work

It is a long-held view among employers that the education system could do much more to prepare young people for the world of work.

According to business leaders, new recruits often lack the basic skills or attributes needed in the workplace.

In its latest, soon-to-be-released quarterly economic survey, leading business organisation the East Midlands Chamber reports that 65 per cent of firms across Mansfield, Ashfield and Bassetlaw had tried to hire new staff over the last three months.

Yet 53 per cent reported they had struggled to find suitably-skilled workers, with 78 per cent of those being for skilled manual and technical roles.

Such is the concern over ‘fixing the link’ between education and jobs, it is one of five priorities contained within the chamber’s 2015 business manifesto.

The document says work experience must be ‘embedded’ into teaching, and vocational learning properly ‘championed’. There should also be a ‘clear link’, it says, between the curriculum and demands of the labour market.

Locally, great strides are already being made to get young people ‘work-ready’ thanks to a pioneering school in Mansfield.

Vision Studio School, which opened last September, is the first of its kind in Nottinghamshire – and one of only 39 in the country.

A new type of school for 14 to 19 year olds of all abilities, studio schools aim to bridge the gap between education and work by giving students regular contact with employers.

They teach the core GCSE subjects of English, maths and science but combine these with vocational courses linked directly to local employment opportunities.

Students at Vision Studio School choose to specialise in engineering or health and care, and study industry-recognised qualifications delivered through a mix of project-based learning in the classroom and work placements.

After following a personalised preparation-for-work programme, students progress to spending two days a week with an employer.

More than 70 are now enjoying regular placements with ‘employer partners’ – ranging from small and medium-sizes businesses to major organisations and charities – including Swiftool, Tyler Brothers, Lindhurst Engineering, Hall-Fast Industrial Supplies, National Tyres, King’s Mill Hospital, Jigsaw, Reach and Portland College.

Students wear smart, business attire rather than a traditional uniform, and follow a 9am-5pm working day, which mirrors that of many workplaces.

And because the school – which currently has 125 students in Years 10 and 12 – is smaller than many of its mainstream counterparts, students benefit from class sizes of no more 20.

They also have a dedicated personal coach, who they meet on a weekly basis for one-to-one support and guidance.

The school is sponsored by West Notts College and is based at its former Chesterfield Road campus, which has undergone a £1.1m refurbishment to provide a technology-rich learning environment.

Meanwhile, its links with the college mean students have access to some of the best facilities in the country including its state-of-the-art £5.8m Engineering Innovation Centre in Sutton. Students also receive talks by industry professionals and attend regular careers events at the school.

Its principal, Andy Campbell, said: “The studio school is responding to the needs of employers by giving them an opportunity to engage with, and even train-up, young people they may actually go on to employ. All this could save them time and money when looking to recruit. For students, we offer a way of combining their vocational learning with the chance to get into employment – and I see some tremendous links with progression towards apprenticeships.

“The work placements are really enhancing their learning and growing them as individuals.”

George Cowcher, chief executive of the East Midlands Chamber, said: “Many businesses still harbour a perception that young people simply aren’t prepared for the world of work and Vision Studio School has gone some way to addressing those concerns locally in its successful first year.

“It is providing an important first step in helping equip more young people with the skills that employers need, to enable them to find jobs with sustainable career prospects.

“What a lot of employers are looking for is work ethic, attitude and a willingness to learn – and these are all things which studio schools can help instil into their students.”