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What is the BBacc?

Cllr Brigid Jones, the Cabinet member for education, says:

 The BBacc will provide a vehicle for responding to concerns long-expressed by employers, locally & nationally, around the ‘work-readiness’ and broader employability skills of school leavers.

 It will be shaped by employers and education leaders to ensure it reflects an agreed standard covering a broad range of skills, attainment and experience. It will be a recognised award of this range of achievements, endorsed by business. As such, employers will readily be able to see and confirm the validity of the skills & experiences achieved as part of the BBacc award.

 Young people, parents & carers will be able to describe their achievements within a recognised, accredited framework, secure in the knowledge that the award has been co-designed by employers themselves.

 It will provide a clear route through to interview and securing work/training opportunities. As such it will help bring education and business closer together to drive the economic growth across the city and subregion.

We anticipate the award framework will allow it to operate at number of qualification levels, from intermediate to Level 3 and beyond. The component elements are yet to be consulted on, but may include: Formal education qualifications (schools, FE, HE); Training & skills awards; Communication skills; Teamworking experience; Participation in civic life; Leadership skills (Captain of team); Work and volunteering experiences.

(Brigid Jones, ‘Briefing for Scrutiny: Overview of the Birmingham Baccalaureate’, in BCC, Closing the Skills Gap: Written Evidence, December 2012, pp158-9.)

Why the BBacc?

The Labour Council believes the school system needs to contribute more effectively to the Birmingham economy. Birmingham has the highest unadjusted youth unemployment rate (23.1%) amongst the core cities – significantly above the core city average of 18.2%. Young people leaving Birmingham schools now have qualifications at or above the national and core city averages (though pass rates for children from socially deprived backgrounds remain much lower). The Council and employers argue that academic qualifications alone are not enough, and ‘education for employability’ will reduce the high level of youth unemployment.

What skills do Birmingham employers say they need schools to develop?

The Birmingham Employment and Skills Board, a representative employers’ body, has stated that ‘In the short to medium term, and given the low skill levels in Birmingham, a focus on upskilling people to fill high volume, but lower wage and skill-level jobs remains the main challenge.’ (Closing the Skills Gap: Written Evidence, p53.) It defines employability skills as:

  1. Understanding a work ethic, a good attitude, the importance of appearance and manner.
  2. At least level 1 competency in literacy and Numeracy skills

In other words, the BBacc is aimed at schools doing more to make sure that young people have the basic skills and the right attitudes to prepare them for low-skill low-pay jobs.

What will happen next?

The Birmingham Commission on Youth Unemployment set up by Albert Bore, states that a small ‘action group’, including representation from schools, businesses, charities working in this field, and representatives of district committees, will be convened by the council to work with existing networks of schools in the city to systematise best practice. Cllr Jones hopes that up to 15 secondary schools will embark on a pilot project for the BBacc in September 2013. BCC has appointed an organisation called Skills for Birmingham as the Key Delivery Partner for the Birmingham Baccalaureate after they published a report in May 2013 called ‘Young, Skilled & Ready: Educating an employable generation for Birmingham’, subtitled ‘The evidence on which the Birmingham Baccalaureate will be built’ .

What Birmingham CASE thinks

There are two interpretations of what the BBacc is. Is it in effect a revived Record of Achievement, validating non-examination achievements including those which demonstrate the ‘soft skills’ which employers value? Or does it involve the promotion of a business-oriented ‘enterprise’ curriculum, as some employers’ statements indicate?

CASE welcomes the City Council’s willingness to “show more leadership in this area” in the context of the report from Overview & Scrutiny “Closing the Skills Gap”, and BCASE welcomes a focus on valuing skills and experiences other than the solely academic, including the ‘soft skills’ which employers value. However, BCASE is against promoting a crude proactive intervention in the curriculum designed solely to promote ‘enterprise education’ and the values of business. BCASE believes students should develop a critical understanding of the world of work, and that the role of school should not be limited to providing the competences that employers want.

BCASE is concerned that employers are focused on schools delivering attitude-approved school leavers suitable for low-skill low-pay jobs. The crisis of the British economy is due in part to its heavy reliance on cheap labour to produce low value-added products rather than high-skill well-paid jobs in cutting edge manufacturing and services. Birmingham employers, and the Council, have a responsibility to turn this around.

BCASE notes that in 2011, 86.4% of pupils in Birmingham attained five or more A*-C GCSEs, and 58.2% achieved five or more A*- C including English and mathematics) and this performance is to be welcomed.

BCASE calls on the Local Authority to engage employers meaningfully in supporting employability initiatives which lead to real sustainable jobs with appropriate remuneration, terms and conditions, and to develop a targeted approach in more deprived areas of the City in order to redress inequality. For example by acting as a broker between schools and business to coordinate high quality work experience in both professional and technical workplaces and to oversee a major increase in apprenticeships.

BCASE calls on employers to grow the jobs market within the City and to show a greater willingness to recruit local labour and personnel.

Finally, we need to remember that whatever employers and schools do to develop ‘employability’ skills, it doesn’t create more jobs.

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