The Independent View: Time to bring industry into the classroom

 Too many young people leave education without the skills and understanding of industry that businesses need. The big increase in apprenticeships in recent years means that a lot more people are now experiencing vocational learning on the job.
But there is still a problem in further education colleges, where most vocational learners still get all or the majority their training. Currently only around 11% of teaching staff at these colleges also work in their chosen profession. In certain sectors such as STEM, where industry standards and practice move fast, knowledge can quickly become out of date. This leads to a gap in quality between college courses and ‘on the job’ apprenticeships, and ultimately a skills shortage for employers.
One way of bridging this gap is to bring more industry professionals into the classroom. At CentreForum we advocate the establishment of a national secondment scheme inspired in part by Teach First, the highly successful scheme that has brought many more Oxbridge graduates into the classroom. We call it ‘Train Too’
The idea is simple: industry professionals will take one day a week teaching secondments, for up to one year, where they will train the next generation of technicians, craftspeople and industrialists. This will ensure that real life industry practice is brought into the classroom and that the spark of interest is nurtured with the enthusiasm for the subject that only an industry expert can offer. It will address two problems.
First, there are significant gaps in further education college teaching staff with most colleges reporting teaching vacancies. Industry professionals can fill these gaps and raise the standard of learning at the same time.
Second, while there are excellent isolated examples of employers working effectively with colleges, 76% of education providers and 61% of employers categorise their current employer/provider relationships as ‘very ineffective’, ‘ineffective’ or ‘neutral’ at best. Having a secondee as a linchpin in the middle will improve such relationships and widen the benefit while still taking local context into account.
For the secondment scheme to work, it will need to attract the highest quality candidates. Just because someone knows their subject well does not mean they will necessarily make a good teacher. There will need to be a rigorous assessment process that measures candidates’ pedagogical potential and requires them to meet a high competency bar. They should also be required to undertake a short teacher training course.
By creaming off the best candidates, and exposing them to the world of vocational education in a low risk manner, we anticipate that many professionals will develop a passion for teaching that lasts beyond the lifetime of the scheme. Imagine a group of 50 former ‘Train Too’ engineers or accountants from around the country, meeting to discuss the state of engineering or accountancy education in colleges and making recommendations to improve the way these subjects are taught. The long term impact of a secondment scheme is likely to be huge, especially if a good alumni network can be established.
There is already lots of evidence to suggest industry professionals who teach add significant value though drawing on their current experience. It is time that we bring more them into the classroom and give vocational learners the full range of skills they need to enter the world of work.
Although the Lib Dems won’t be voting on this specific idea in Glasgow  the party would do well to include it in their policy framework on further education ahead of 2015.

The Independent View‘ is a slot on Lib Dem Voice which allows those from beyond the party to contribute to debates we believe are of interest to LDV’s readers. Please email [email protected] if you are interested in contributing.

* James Kempton and Sam Tomlin authored 'Train Too: industry secondments into Further Education' (http://www.centreforum.org/index.php/mainpublications/507-train-too) published by CentreForum, the liberal think tank.

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