As Brexit fast approaches, Colin Cattanach asks: What does Brexit mean for education in his home city of Bath?

As the UK comes to terms with leaving the European Union after the historic referendum Colin Cattanach, former Principal of a Bath secondary school asks ‘What does Brexit mean for education in Bath?’

Bath is a global city. This is not just a factor of mass tourism and the attraction of Bath as a tourism honey pot with a current very weak pound, post Brexit vote. Many of our leading employers in Bath export to Europe and beyond and future trade will be essential to secure current employment and offer new opportunities for young people in the city.

As an educator that believes the employability agenda is central to our education system, I had a vested interest in ensuring we provided businesses in Bath with the best young talent to secure the city’s economic sustainability, especially in uncertain economic times. The city is characterised by innovation in the creative industries, the wider services sector and uniquely in high end manufacturing. All of these sectors are important to us as we shape education in the city.

Our students not only live in a globalised economy but live a globalised lifestyle. It was not unusual for our students to skype with leading professionals in USA, Australia and Germany to add value to their BTEC or A level courses. 1n 2016, our students worked with a Brazilian TV company for three weeks producing a documentary on our work which is now live on youtube and can be viewed across cross the globe, showcasing Bath. In fact it’s not a big deal anymore and our students expect high quality broadband to support the fostering of new networking opportunities and seek new working partnerships with people in Europe and beyond.

Things are changing too slowly in schools and it is my fear that we are not equipping young people successfully with the learning experiences needed to compete in a globalised economy. It is critical that industries in Bath, political leaders and also national post Brexit economic strategies align with news ways of learning in schools, colleges and universities which embrace globalisation.
Schools don’t just educate, they shape society. There is therefore an important role for them to play in healing the rifts exposed by the referendum. Schools have an increasingly important role to support their communities and work in authentic partnerships with local businesses, social enterprises and charity sectors.

I see post Brexit as a time for renewed partnership working. I believe Bath and the talent of its young people has a bright future. I think it’s time for employers to open new dialogues with schools to align business needs with education and would welcome more businesses to work with schools to set a clear agenda for the future.

Not to upset our business leaders, but really it is getting monotonous to keep hearing young people don’t have employability skills. This is to adopt a lazy and generalised approach to the work of schools. Employers need to be more explicit about what they need and work closely with schools to bridge any skills deficit. Schools like the one I worked in are developing and addressing the skills agenda daily and want to improve further.

There has already been some but not exhaustive debate into whether the vote to leave the EU will delay education policies, with particular concern that the Government may find it tough to implement the national funding formula plans to create a new funding system and even out regional cash disparities. It is critical that the government does not lose its nerve in this domain and does implement improved funding which will benefit children in Bath.

All schools in Bath need to embrace with optimism the brave new world of Brexit. We need to do so for the sake of our young people who need schools to be institutions that are inclusive. The city has very good schools but it is my belief that school leaders need to do more to support social mobility in the city. This requires a paradigm shift in thinking from our school leaders and full engagement with employers. I think this requires a new forum for employers and school leaders to come together to renew our vision to secure the best outcomes for the children of the city. So a challenge for me as a school leader who embraces the employability and skills agenda is to galvanise further support from other likeminded professionals in the city to secure a stronger vision for education in the city for 2020 and beyond as we deal with Brexit. That’s why I believe we need to get behind Bath and most critically support all the communities of Bath – advantaged and disadvantaged and narrow the educational attainment gap.

I would welcome support from all members of the Bath Business, social, cultural and educational communities to come together and work with our school to shape a 2025 vision for secondary education which supports business needs and also seeks to transform life chances for ALL young people in the city no matter where they may live. We must seek to eliminate child poverty in our city in all its facets. A 2025 vision for education is critical for the city of Bath as we come to terms with brave new world of Brexit. It is time for tenacious, bold leadership. A 2025 vision for education in the city is NOW essential as we deal with Brexit.

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