Lord Hill on the studio schools movement

Lord Hill speaks at the Studio Schools Trust conference.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government
The Rt Hon Lord Hill of Oareford CBE

Thank you David, and thank you for giving me the chance to come today to say a few words about the studio schools movement that is gathering pace across the land.

When I spoke at your conference two years ago, there were just two studio schools. Today there are 16. By next September we should hit 30.The application round for September 2014 is open and I know that I will be seeing more strong proposals coming forward by the beginning of next year.

We are seeing new studio schools opening from London to Liverpool, from Durham to Devon. And they are doing so at a cracking pace. Last year we weren’t able to approve successful proposals until December. Yet 9 months later, thanks to the incredibly hard work of sponsors, 11 new studio schools opened successfully.

That shows to me not just what people can achieve when they put their minds to things, but how great the demand for studio schools is - from employers, from parents, and from pupils.

One of the best parts of my job is seeing schools that at the beginning of the year were just names on a piece of paper, open, bustling, and full of children. That is an amazing achievement, so to those of you in this room who were part of that I would like to say thank you. And to those of you who are embarking on the same process for next September - or who intend to bid for September 2014 - I want to say that on past form it is eminently do-able. And you won’t be alone.

There is the excellent Studio Schools Trust led by the brilliant David Nicholl who will be on hand to advise and support. A growing number of Studio Schools who can share their experience, particularly on the importance of early and consistent marketing. And my team of officials who I know will give you all the help they can.

Why am I an enthusiast for studio schools? Because they provide a different route for children who learn better by doing and who are by nature more practical or entrepreneurial. Because alongside those practical and vocational skills they offer a rigorous academic education. And because they are a brilliant way of bringing the worlds of education and work closer together to the benefit of both.

We have all heard employers saying that they can’t find British school leavers with the skills they need. And it’s not just concerns about literacy and numeracy, but equally basic things like turning up on time, looking presentable, knowing how to work in a team and how to take instructions from a manager.

A recent Federation of Small Businesses survey said that something approaching 8 in 10 firms are concerned that young people leaving school aren’t ready for work. And a survey carried out by the CBI earlier this year found that 42% of businesses were not satisfied with literacy of school and college leavers, and over a third were not satisfied with levels of numeracy.

What is exciting about studio schools is that employers aren’t just pointing out a problem. They are rolling up their sleeves and doing something about it.

What better way of bridging the gap between school and work is there than local businesses helping to shape the curriculum, providing mentoring and offering proper work experience - often paid for after the age of 16. Is it any wonder that when I visit studio schools I see keen, smartly turned out youngsters motivated by the chance to work with and learn from local employers.

And wherever I go I meet parents who speak about the difference they have seen in their children.

There are more than 150 employers currently working with studio schools and that figure is increasing the whole time as schools build new relationships with employers large and small to offer the widest range of opportunities to their pupils.

These range from major national employers like Capita, the Press Association, Ikea and Specsavers a to smaller local businesses including architects, graphic design companies, local Michelin Star restaurants and public sector employers.

There are studio schools with specialisms as diverse as gaming and digital futures, construction, catering and hospitality, health and social care, science and engineering, and creative arts. Including the studio school here in Southampton which is going to specialise in marine and cruise industries. These all reflect the local jobs market and the needs and strengths of local areas.

There is growing enthusiasm, not just from employers, but from different kinds of sponsors wanting to open a studio school. The first wave saw lots of outstanding FE colleges stepping forward. Outstanding academies such as the Parkside Federation in Hillingdon and Ockenden Academy in Thurrock and academy chains such as AET and the Aldridge Foundation, are also becoming studio school sponsors in growing numbers.

And for the first time this year, we approved two projects driven by community groups: Kajans in Birmingham and the Vine Trust in Walsall.

While there is no standard blueprint for a studio school they share a common feature. They are all driven by inspirational groups who are determined to give young people the chance to achieve their potential.

And it’s important to be clear that studio schools aren’t some kind of soft option. There isn’t anything soft about the practical skills being offered and all studio schools will offer a solid academic grounding in maths and English and science, as well as a range of other GCSEs and vocational qualifications. Many studio schools like LEAF in Bournemouth, Da Vinci in Hertfordshire and Devon Studio School, will give pupils the opportunity to study for the EBacc. In the sixth form, the offer may include A levels, BTECs, or apprenticeships. This opens up to students a range of opportunities after they leave the school, including going on to university, further vocational training, Higher Apprenticeships, employment or starting their own business.

So studio schools offer a fresh and new culture. They are all ability. They have high aspirations. And they are part of a broader move to increase choice, alongside the expansion of university technical colleges, academies and free schools, academies. A system driven by local people, local children and local employers.

As such, they speak to many of the key principles that underpin the government’s overall education reforms.

We are supporting greater freedoms by placing more trust in professionals and stripping back top-down interference where we can. Politicians always say they believe in trusting professionals - and then nearly always do the exact opposite.

We have an underlying goal of trying to tilt the system back in favour of trusting professionals. You can see it in our drive to cut back on regulations. We have removed 75% of centrally-issued guidance to schools over the last two years - more than 20,000 pages. We are determined to resist adding subjects to the national curriculum and indeed - to slimming it back to a core - freeing up more time for teachers and schools. And we have opened up academy freedoms - the legal basis of all new studio schools - to all schools who want them.

We want a system that is driven more by parental and pupil choice and less by central planning. One which allows good schools to expand and challenges weaker schools to improve.

I love the fact that left to their own devices, groups are coming up with all sorts of ideas and approaches that the state could not have imagined. Successful models are bubbling up from below rather than being imposed from the top.

In the case of studio schools, we are also seeing much of this increased choice happening in our poorest communities. Of the studio schools that opened their doors for the first time in 2012, 50% are serving the most deprived 10% of communities.

We are also working to develop more rigorous qualifications - academic and vocational - that are valued by universities and employers. In particular, we need to strengthen standards of literacy and numeracy.

We’re reforming the examination system to ensure we do not have multiple examination boards competing in a race to the bottom; and we’re reforming post-16 funding in a way that will increase funding for good quality vocational education and work experience.

Looking ahead

This is the context in which studio schools are flourishing. And it’s in this spirit of autonomy, choice and high standards that I am so keen to see the movement expand further.

I think the future for studio schools is bright.

We don’t have a target for the number of studio schools we are looking to open but I am looking forward to another crop of imaginative proposals, spread around the country, which offer an excellent education, good value for money and keep capital costs low.

We will announce successful proposals for September 2014 before the summer - this will give groups nearly twice as long to get to opening as they had last year.

I am also glad to say that there is support for studio schools across party lines. I have been glad to build on work started under the last government and I am equally glad that Stephen Twigg is coming here later today to lend his support to Studio Schools. Ultimately, the proof of the pudding will be in the eating. Studio schools will live or die by their results.

So all of us involved with them have a heavy responsibility. But in the bright faces of the students I see in the new studio schools, in the passionate teachers, the dedicated sponsors and the motivated employers I have every confidence that studio schools are a winning formula and offer something new and exciting for students, for parents, and for employers.

Thank you.

Published 18 October 2012