Balancing Life Chances - Balancing the Books

22/07/2016 09:23 | Updated 22 July 2016

On the day Theresa May became Prime Minister, she made a landmark statement that shifted the agenda. Instead of repeating the familiar mantra of using austerity to balance the books, she focused instead on reducing the disillusion, deprivation and divide in our country. She will know that her new cabinet has the chance to do both: come closer to balancing the books and increase life-chances for all people, young and old - the two are not mutually exclusive; even if for far too long it might have seemed that way.

But whatever shape this new government agenda takes, and the signs are positive, it must include a radical re-think, long-term planning and bold execution in our education system.

For too long the narrow academic 'exam factory' approach in our educational establishments has been seen as the way forward, even though it is so backward looking in its design and origins. It had zero chance of addressing our current problems; it was never going to deliver the practical solutions we so desperately need.

But if it wasn't going to deliver the solutions, what are the problems? The key challenges are the same as they were five years ago: the skills gap; the gender gap; the productivity gap; the STEM gap; the literacy and numeracy gap; social immobility and of course continued high youth unemployment - at 14% still far too high, nearly triple the headline rate (5%). It is a depressing list.

Sticking plaster solutions such as putting financial education onto the curriculum, but only for secondary state schools, will not deliver any significant change. Like all these short-termist solutions, financial education will only work if it is properly embedded in the curriculum for all schools (including primary) and teachers are given the training, resources and curriculum space to teach them properly.

But above all, to have a chance of tackling the underlying issues, we need to have structural change to the design and management of education. We need an education system that is joined up, geared up and supportive of the jobs market and employers' needs. A system that recognises young people's work related skills (i.e. character skills), even if they are not strong academically. A system that recognises that every single young person has potential. Surely, in the 12 years that they are in the education system, we should be able to discover and develop their strengths? Currently all we do is mark and manage them based on their academic capabilities.

We need to take a new, long-term approach; an energetic, inclusive, cross-party approach that's set for decades to come. We cannot chop and change the system each time a new Secretary of State for Education is appointed - that is not strategic nor is it responsible. From our work in the education system over the last 53 years, Young Enterprise knows that our students, their parents, their teachers and our 6,000 business mentors want real change and a real strategic long-term approach. It's what we need, our children and young people need and, above all, it's what our country must have post-Brexit.

With a new Prime Minister there is potential for a new, positive direction; one which blows away this stupor and clears the torpor that fogs our collective mind when it comes to our educational thinking. Right now, any initiative that doesn't include an overhaul of what we teach and how we teach it, is a short-term political fix, not a long-term strategy. It is a bet - a gamble - not an investment. If Brexit is to be a new beginning, not the beginning of the end, then a radical reformation of education must be a part of the new Cabinet's thinking. I look forward to hearing more from the government in the coming weeks.