Richard Hatcher, professor of education (Birmingham City University) has written an article, ‘Skilled and ready: what Combined Authorities want from schools’.

He summarised the argument made in his conclusion:

The purpose of Combined Authorities, driven by government, is private sector economic growth and public sector reform. Economic growth requires improved productivity. The main obstacle, it is claimed, is a “skills deficit”, which schools need to address.  Combined Authorities, driven by funding and governance imperatives, will seek to put pressure on schools to do so.

However, the evidence provides little support for the “skills deficit” claim. The real problem, I argue, is a structurally low skill low investment economy.

A local reference: Jaguar Land Rover, based in the WMCA area, is a case in point: it has an annual investment of approximately £2.75 billion a year but faces critical skills shortages in engineers, designers and technicians. The explanation for this shortage offered by Begley et al (Coventry, 2015, paywall) puts Wilshaw’s claim into context.  In part responsibility lies with the employers themselves: it is “a legacy of the engineering sector being locked into a low-skills equilibrium caused by a long-term failure to educate and train its workforce” (p594). It is also the result in part of the failure of government to ensure sufficient qualified maths and science teachers.

skilled-logoWhat employers want from “non-academic” school leavers are basic skills, “soft skills” and positive attitudes to work. But the Conservative government has a very different project for schools, exemplified by the dominance of the E-Bacc. This contradiction creates a space for “employability” programmes such as Skilled and Ready – more detail here.

The extent to which Combined Authorities will seek to extend their reach into the school system and how effective they will be in gearing schools more closely to their agendas, remains to be seen. In that context it also remains to be seen the extent to which schools, especially those which are not high-performing in terms of government targets, will turn to “employability” programmes such as that offered by Skilled and Ready, and the extent to which Combined Authorities may promote them.

What can be predicted, I think, is that as Combined Authorities spread and develop they will add fuel to the debate about the relationship between schools and the labour market, resulting in more questioning of the E-Bacc curriculum and more pressure to validate a pre-vocational and vocational pathway. But it also opens up the opportunity to argue the case for a unified and critical common core secondary curriculum for all.

Ed: a very different case has been presented by Theresa May in her recent speech about ‘new grammars of the future ’in ‘our increasingly diverse schools system’.