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Views & Opinion Why financial guidance is fundamental for

the education sector Comment by Robin Scher, head of education, SME Banking at Lloyds Bank Commercial Banking

As a former school teacher and the new head of education for SME Banking in London for Lloyds Bank, I recognise the distinctive contribution that schools play in enhancing the communities we live and work in. This is true of every village, town and city in the country, no matter how big or small.

Having experienced the varied nature of the education sector’s monetary needs from both sides of the fence, it is clear that financial support – whether expert guidance or actual funding - is even more relevant today than it was when I first qualified, especially in this changing economic landscape.

Changing environment

We are currently seeing a number of large scale reforms in the education system, such as the rapid rise of academy conversions and free schools. These changes amount to one of the greatest educational shake-ups the sector has seen in recent decades, with more than 300 free schools currently open and another 500 planned in this parliament, as well as nearly 5,000 academy conversions taking place since 2010. Local authorities are also currently facing

budget cuts of 40 per cent. This budgetary pressure, means schools must extract as much value as possible from the funds they receive. Through the creation of free schools and the reformed academy system, schools are also being run increasingly independently of local authority control. This combination of financial pressure and new rules creates a dual-pronged set of challenges for schools. In this environment it is all the more pertinent to ensure that financial guidance is provided by industry specialists who know the sector.

Help is on hand

To help, we have set up and trained a team of specialist education relationship managers who are accredited by the National Association of School Business Management (NASBM). Lloyds Bank is the first bank to develop such an accreditation programme, and it underlines our commitment to the sector by ensuring schools receive the very best guidance from our relationship managers.

And it’s not just state-funded schools which benefit from this support and experience: our


As a teacher, you learn as much as you teach. I’ve learnt that teaching requires more than just knowledge. It requires flexibility, and the ability to stretch to meet the needs of your pupils. Most of all, it requires the determination to provide the best level of education that you possibly can. These values do not lose their meaning once you step out of the classroom. Our team has learnt this is all the more important in times of economic uncertainty.

expertise permeates through the private sector too, and this year we launched the Independent School Investment Loan to show our commitment to that market. This specifically supports the investment plans of independent schools, for example improving and constructing buildings, installing the latest technology and purchasing new sports equipment. Independent schools have found that, with the competition to attract new students, it is now vital to have state-of-the- art facilities; this loan has been very well received by our clients who need assistance with their investment plans.

Why the hard v soft skills ‘dilemma’ is a false one Comment by Stephen Chamberlain, CEO of Challenger Multi Academy Trust

The ongoing debate surrounding the relative merits of soft and hard skills has received a lot of attention in recent weeks – with people arguing both are more important than the other.

Most recently the arts, and the benefits of art itself in schools, has come under scrutiny. From my experience I feel that as a society, we are making outdated and lazy assumptions about the arts and other interests more broadly that we do not hesitate to share with young people. Despite that, art far from let me down. It taught me great things, including being curious about the world around me and daring enough to imagine and portray it in a different light.

Skin-deep assumptions apply to other ‘caricatures’ of students too. Sporty ones are unlikely to academically inclined, while being into travel equals budding ‘hipster’. These stereotypes may make for good films and soundbites, but they are an appalling reference-point for the current hard vs. soft skills debate.

Hard skills have somehow become synonymous with a solid, long-term

November 2015

investment in a student’s employability and development prospects. These include the likes of mental maths and analysis, always powered by knowledge and memory. Soft skills are, in contrast, often described in a sweeping and condescending way and the ‘soft-skill person’ will be artsy or sporty or into travel or, god forbid, all three of them. However, we have to look at how these rigid notions affect students. A study by Demos that came out this week shows that final-year students being half as likely to feel happy (33%) as 14-year-olds. One of the main reasons cited for this anxiety and frustration is an overwhelming focus on exam results that saps students’ motivation and limits their creative horizons and long-term growth.

A remorseless pressure to perform better academically unsurprisingly takes a toll on students’ morale, just as much as the fear of morphing into living, breathing stereotypes prevents them from developing interests outside the classroom.

Yet it is this kind of extracurricular activities that would help alleviate students’ stress and restore a sense of self-belief. They broaden

their perspectives and widen their range of experiences, testing themselves in a variety of contexts and interacting with people from diverse backgrounds equips them with resilience and empathy respectively. With this in mind I feel the time has come to do away with our fixation on exam results and league tables. They are just as unimaginative and harmful as the stereotypes that put off students from becoming well- rounded and venturing outside the bubble of their teenage world.

It is little wonder that students feel let down. What good are hard skills if they leave students feeling stressed, directionless and lacking backbone?

Put simply, character will always outlive dexterity and savviness, so could it be that we are focussing on the wrong things? Hard skills are always important but we must realise that a compromise need not be made to improve soft skills also. Only then will we be able to develop a generation of young people not only able to pass exams, but also to gain employment, contribute to the economy, and make the most of themselves. 17

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