Schools can & need to fight back against the UTC & Studio Schools employability PR blitz

In his speech to the annual Studio Schools Trust Conference this week, Lord Nash spoke of the need for this new type of school to be more proactive and “dynamic” in both their engagement with established local schools and in their marketing to local parents. His message came against a backdrop of news that the other new career route focused schools, University Technical Colleges, were operating so under capacity that the Dfe was considering halting the funding of new ones.

The Studio Schools rationale is to “pioneer a bold new approach to learning which includes teaching through enterprise projects and real work” because, as the CBI and other spokespeople for the world of industry consistently remind us, the UK education curriculum is perceived to be failing in one of its main functions to prepare work ready employees of tomorrow. Promoted by Lord Baker and The Duke of York respectively, UTCs and Studio Schools are reactions to this criticism and hope to fill a niche by bridging the gap between employment and education alongside the Dfe’s overarching program of school reform supposedly implemented with the skill needs of employers in mind.

In the speech Lord Nash referred to the issues Studio Schools have faced with recruiting students at both 14 and 16 and the steps they can take to improve both numbers and the range of prior ability of learners. This is a tacit admission that, in some Authorities, the Studio School brand has been misunderstood for a kind of new style Pupil Referral Unit type offer. Nash’s suggestions include:

  • a proactive approach towards the schools in their area. Despite what I’ve just said about the potential difficulties in recruiting students from schools at 14, those studio schools that have taken the initiative to build these relationships have done noticeably better

  • a dynamic direct marketing strategy to parents and pupils in the media and online

It is that “dynamic” and “direct” marketing drive that will interest CEIAG professionals as, without doubt, each of the schools will make their use of work experience, employer contacts, engagement and direct career pathways a major cornerstone of their advertising and appeal. As Nash says,

it emerged that the more aspirational the offer, the greater the appeal to prospective parents and pupils, with specialisms like the prestigious STEM subjects going down well. Strong employer engagement was also found to be a strong asset, but only if the overall offer was aspirational enough.

Reinforced by politicians across the political divide

and in eulogizing articles in the national press, the message is clear – These schools prepare young people for the world of work better than ‘regular’ schools.

‘Regular’ schools can and need to fight back against this PR strategy and, by Careers Leaders preaching the necessity of that to their Senior Leadership, this in turn could aid improvement in the consistency of Careers provision across the country. Local newspapers seem willing to give schools a platform to highlight their great Careers work so this is a tactic Careers leads in schools should be utilising to their full advantage to advance their cause. I passionately believe that ‘regular’ schools can incorporate the Studio School strategies mentioned above of employer engagement, IAG, enterprise and experience of the world of work into their structure and provision resulting in a wider and more comprehensive overview of the labour market for students. It’s worth saying that I should be taking my own advice here and local coverage of our own work is something I’ll be looking to gain in coming months and report back with any progress.

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