Cursor Curated
23rd May 2024

The future of education : Part II

Interview with Andrew Chisholm, Priory Federation of Academies Trust

Cover 29 Andrew Chisholm
Cursor Curated Issue 29
Daniel Westlake

Introducing the Priory Federation of Academies Trust

Andrew Chisholm
The Priory Federation of Academies Trust is a multi-academy trust of 13 academies. The composition of those academies is five secondary academies, one special academy, one all-through, and then six primaries.

We are based around a Lincoln hub and a Grantham hub. We have above 8,500 pupils, and we have about 1,400 adults who work with us as well. So that that's who we are.

29 priory federation logo

We are also an initial teacher training provider, so we train teachers to teach, and we award qualified teacher status to said teachers. We train both primary and secondary teachers, and we train around 100 teachers annually to hopefully seek employment in schools in Lincolnshire.

There is a teacher recruitment crisis and that's a big driver for us; we actually count our initial teacher training provision as our ‘14th academy’, and our ‘15th’ is our apprenticeship provision where we usually have, at any one time, over 100 people on programme.

The hidden benefit in apprenticeship provision, of course, is the fact that it meets the needs of our school leavers, and becomes a pathway for them in addition to the usual pathways that children have followed.

Daniel Westlake
That's brilliant. So a lot of organisations, covering loads of different types of learning. What about your particular role, Andy?

Andrew Chisholm
I'm a Director within the multi-academy trust, which means that I work across all of those settings. I'm responsible for the apprenticeship provision, the SCITT teacher training provision, and what we call professional learning, which is essentially the up-skilling of all our teaching staff and all our support staff.

How is education changing: T Levels and vocational focus

Andrew Chisholm
Education is a broad beast in a general sense and it’s difficult to home in on any one area without implications for other areas, but there are quite significant changes to post-16 education that have been underway for the last couple of years.

The headlines are that the Level 3 BTEC qualifications are slowly being removed from the portfolio for students studying after compulsory education. 

It's removing from the market quite a significant number of qualifications, which in many respects makes life simpler, and the government is bringing in new courses called T Levels (short for technical), to fill the space that's being vacated by BTECs. T Levels are very similar to BTECs in the sense that they are focused on career progression working in a particular sector. They are employment-based and co-designed with industry.

The pathways for children are increasingly going to be defined by two words: ‘academic’ and ‘technical’. If you want to follow an academic pathway, you do a suite of A Levels. Technical education will consist of an apprenticeship route, a T Level route, or, at the moment, some remaining BTECs. You can't really combine BTECs and A Levels, and you certainly can't combine a T Level with anything, that's your full timetable if you take it. 

We’ve set up campuses in the Lincoln area, two of which focus on technical, one of which focuses on academic, which have actually allowed us to grow our portfolio of opportunities for children. 

29 growth route

Not all children will be successful based on what society deems to be ‘academically acceptable’ for jobs, for CVs, etc. Not every child can meet that. It's impossible because of grade thresholds and normal distribution curves and all the rest of it. So it's really important that we have different pathways.

For us, it's as important to offer Level 2 qualifications at post-16 as it is the Level 3 qualifications. So that's motor vehicle, or bricklaying, for example. We are looking to expand that portfolio to meet the needs of our students, our learners. We hope that after a one-year Level 2, they will progress into an apprenticeship or a T Level course.

There are some alternatives, what we call ‘large alternative academic qualifications’, which will home in on things like Performing Arts and Sport. I think they will be academic, but by the very nature of the beast, they're bound to be a little bit more technical than studying History at A Level, for example.

Daniel Westlake
I was immediately thinking: where do your creative subjects sit in that? Are they ‘academic’ or are they ‘technical’? They're kind of a bit of both, really, aren't they?

Andrew Chisholm
They are. They're a real challenge to us. You've got to remember that this cohort of children, and this will be the case for about 3 years, weren't able to do anything like that during the pandemic. Creating music couldn't happen because they couldn't play any instruments. Performing arts; they couldn't do that because they had to be two metres apart from each other all the time. For remote education, our timetables were constructed around those subjects for which it was possible to deliver remote lessons. So these children have almost had a two or three-year block of time where they've had no exposure to these subjects to become excited.

And you've got to think of this in the sense of their own confidence: “I'm not gonna choose that because I've missed three years of it. I did continue my Maths. I did continue my Geography.” So we know that we've got to do a big body of work moving forward with the children. It's quite an interesting one, isn't it?

So when you see a 21-year-old, assume they're 19. If you see a 19-year-old, assume they're 17. Give them a break; they really did suffer quite significantly, and I mean that universally for every child, they missed personal development.

Daniel Westlake
Some people will look back and say, well, the pandemic is over, it's done. But it has had an effect on those people at school and their skills, and then that's coming through into the workforce, because the workforce of the future are in the schools now. So maybe the companies think that it's over, but actually some of the consequences are yet to come.

Andrew Chisholm
From a personal point of view, I think there's a message in there about giving young people a chance and recognising that they've missed two years of their life. So when you see a 21-year-old, assume they're 19. If you see a 19-year-old, assume they're 17. Give them a break; they really did suffer quite significantly, and I mean that universally for every child, they missed personal development. I think we have to understand that as employers, and we have to work on a set of skills.

Preparing students for careers in digital and technology

Andrew Chisholm
We have a Cybersecurity T Level, but, of course, you can do your A Level in Computer Science. So there are different pathways and students should be able to plot a route through that.

Careers are hugely important, and we've invested heavily as an organisation in careers because it isn't easy. And the world is moving so fast that the majority of us who work in schools have no idea what many of the jobs that are in existence now actually are.

Children spend a significant amount of time of their formative years with teachers who are nearly all educated at university, who've then subsequently studied education. We are varied in how we have all ended up in education, but as a general rule, it's been a simple pathway. We went to university, many of us did a one-year postgraduate qualification in teaching, and then we teach. Well, how does that talk to 70% of the workplace? It doesn't.

So it's a very challenging and interesting dynamic, which we're obviously aware of. There is no magic bullet.

29 industry education

Daniel Westlake
Industry needs to engage with education and vice versa, really. I mean, it's been said before that people in tech are ‘geeks and weirdos’, but there's a massive range of different types of people that can be involved in technology careers. And I think one of the problems there is stereotypes - if you're not this stereotypical hoodie-wearing geek then you might think, well, that's not for me.

But the world is running on software these days. And all sorts of roles, whether that's being involved in leadership and strategy, through to accounts and management, and loads of creativity roles are involved in technology businesses, and it's time to get that across to students, to create good-looking options.

At every level; people want personally to get better and they want the people that they work with to get better too. It's a fundamental thing - education is what we value.

How industry and education are working together to improve student employability

Andrew Chisholm
You talk about that partnership between industry and education, and it is, in my opinion, becoming more important than ever before, for all manner of reasons. The truth of the matter is that industry needs people who want to work in that sector. Well, how do we actually do that unless we expose children to it at an earlier age and provide experiences for young people? We need industry to understand they're picking up a product that isn't fully finished. 

Daniel Westlake
So is your message: “For the good of your workforce in the future, engage in education”?

Andrew Chisholm
Yep. It's a priceless thing. We all learn every single day and education is fundamentally something we all value because we all want people to get better. At every level; people want personally to get better and they want the people that they work with to get better too. It's a fundamental thing - education is what we value.

So what are the sacrifices that everybody's making to make sure that works? It can’t be one-way traffic.

Daniel Westlake
No. So things like industry getting involved in curriculum and support placements? From what you were saying earlier it sounds like there's a difference between a T Level placement and work experience - there are different expectations there. Is that right?

Andrew Chisholm
Yes, the Technical Level, the T Level, comes with significant industry placement: 45 days expectation. That can be covered in a variety of different ways, but that's nine weeks. That isn't work experience dropping in for a few days, and the employer has to take an active role in providing evidence of progress for the learner, so it's a significant commitment from both sides.

29 extended interview

The T Level is a practical course with theory, and we want that experience to be really enriching. We want them to be excited. And at the end of the day, schools may have lost some of their excitement for some of the young people. They've been there since they were five years old. But going out to industry, going to a factory or an office or whatever is different, is exciting. You see different things: “You've got a coffee machine in your area, wow.”

Daniel Westlake
We have a pool table, I don't know how that would go down!

Andrew Chisholm
Exactly. I'm thinking about the new Lawress Hall building used by the University of Lincoln for their office-based staff. They've got a swimming pool for their staff. They've got pool tables and ping-pong tables and all the rest of it. How would you know unless you've been exposed to these experiences? That's the dream.

Of course, the benefits go both ways. The T Level industry partners might know the 10 or 15 students on that course from the first day that they arrive as a 16-year-old until they complete the course as an 18-year-old. Well, that's quite a long interview process, isn't it? And, actually, if that programme's right, the output is somebody who could well be working in their organisation and they already know which key opens what door. They know how to function, and that saves an induction period - what's not to like?

And I am being idealistic. You've got to reach for the stars. You've got to aim high, haven't you? We want that sort of programme. And it'll take time to refine it, but hopefully, we'll get there.

More from this series:

The future of education : Part I
With Desmond Clarke, Open College of the Arts

Sea graphic
Cursor Curated wordmark
Cursor Curated wordmark

Articles, tips and knowledge delivered straight to your inbox