With education the subject on the table, other issues raised were how a bigger university presence could boost the town town, and what more could be done to let children know what jobs were available to them when the leave school, and the importance of raising aspirations.
With the discussion chaired by the Free Press' David Kessen, the issue was discussed by Clair Mowbray, chief executive of the National College for High Speed Rail; Kathryn Dixon, Doncaster College head of health and wellbeing; Gwyn ap Harri, XP School chief executive; and Sam Debbage, deputy director of education at Doncaser and Bassetlaw Teaching Hospitals.
What needs to be done to improve education in Doncaster and what improvements have you seen?
CM: I think there is a focus on the higher levels and I think we need to be raising aspirations, then people will engage better when they arrive in education.
GaH: I think our model is addressing that issue and has been showing people that there is a model to do education differently, and giving them civic pride, to want to go to university and and come back to Doncaster. Our curriculum is not just about delivering the national curriculum, it is also about authentic outcomes. We teach through a journey that results in the production of a book, poster or an event. For instance year sevens have recently done a book about what Doncaster owes to the miners., about the history, geology and interviews with ex-miners. and others in their communities, and printed the book. Kids understand the values of a successful community. We want all our pupils to be able to go to university if that is what they want. It is about giving kids opportunity.
SD: We are not a true education provider but we have been recognised as a teaching hospital and that has been a turning point for us. We have multiple levels and we have to raise aspirations of residents, and we should be seen as a gateway. We get full time students coming in to do placements, and they can see 350 different careers that are in the NHS. We have 6,500 staff.
KD: We have students that come in from a level where they lack confidence that have often not had a good experience of education, and there can be a lot of raising self esteem involved. Raising what they expect to achieve can be as much as a battle as anything. In the past we have had practical courses but not always asked employers if they are what they need. You have to re-calibrate all the time. Two years ago, perhaps they may not have been work ready, but we have changed how we work with employers to change that.
CM: It is right that employers work with the colleges. We will not be doing anything an employer does not want. If they have not said they want it or given us the equipment, we won't deliver it. From day one our learners get expertise from industry. We need to be seeing tech education on track with university. Everything should not only be focused around universities.
GaH: We call ours a 'university ready curriculum', but we don't expect or drive all kids to university - it is about opening the door for them. We want to develop their career pathways.
KD: We've mapped careers and career pathways for the NHS and students are fascinated by salaries. The first thing they want to know is that they earn.
We have had discussions with care providers, and they told us it would be great of students came from college with an NHS manual handling qualification. It saves the employer money and it is then something that the students can do straight away. We train students to various levels but this is something that makes people more helpful to employers.
SD: Sometimes we go into schools and they have no idea what the opportunities are out there.
CM: We could be doing projects in a careers environment. Rather than telling children, they could be doing projects. I see our role as to be working with the schools in the area, so that when they get to a certain age, they can have an interview with the college.
We also need to make sure that if people to go on a career pathway, their skills will be transferable to other industries. We are looking for designers and people who are creative, but those skills are relevant to other areas
I think also sometimes, subject matter is taught, but not soft skills, and I can be forgotten that we have to deal with the whole individual.
What needs to be done to make sure people are leaving Doncaster schools and colleges ready for work?
SD: Sheffield Hallam gives us money to raise awareness about health employment. We had a campaign and did three forums for schools.
CM: There are some very forward thinking schools looking and it would be great if every child was getting the same opportunity and consideration of how they can be supported for further education and beyond. To get Doncaster moving forward we need too have that happening on a consistent basis, but it's been hit or miss in terms of how many have been interested in working with us.
SD: I think it is hit or miss what you get from the school and how that is tackled. From going through schools I think careers systems going through school can be superficial, and I don't want that.
KD: Three employers have said exactly that to me, that careers advice is not that great.
CM: Every industry is trying to to approach schools and it is hit or miss the quality you get. What we are not getting is an industry-wide approach .
We're looking to do something with schools for teachers to come in and see different jobs and experience some of our different teaching methods so that they can have a better understanding of the opportunities and the industry.
GaH: Schools get measured by their GCSE results and live or die by that. We try to think about the children getting a qualification as a consequence of learning, which is a big shift. Also, judging by GCSE results alone means no school gets judged on what it is doing right now.
SD: I think apprenticeships are now all the way up to doctorate but I think people still think they're second class. Trailblazers (groups of employers who work together to design new apprenticeship standards for occupations within their sectors) are changing that. Nearly every career is moving into apprenticships, and I think we can teach people a lot of things once we get them in.
CM: For people who want a career we are now seeing people who have done apprenticeships getting jobs ahead of graduates, for reasons like they have developed company loyalty.
KD: Students are asking more and more about apprenticeships when they come in. I think it's the way forward.
How far do we need to go to create a Doncaster University?
KD: It has been on the table for a long time. It is would be fantastic for raising aspirations in the borough and I can see the advantage of that. But people seem to have strong views for and against.
GaH: Our schools work with Sheffield Hallam which has been great, but for me when you look at towns and cities with universities, you've got Sheffield, which is the city it is because of its universities, and Leeds, similarly
SD: I think a satellite campus may be the way forward. Sheffield Hallam Universsity may be the sort of organisation.
CM: Hallam is a younger university and are maybe focused more on tech rather than just academic learning.
KD: Keeping options and pathways is also important.
CM: It comes with associated credibility to the area, and Hallam could do something like that in Doncaster.
SD: It's expensive to leave home. I understand it teaches young people to be independent.
KD: There are people who can't afford uni who could study at home.
It would be good to have a university presence in Doncaster, but not at the expense of other things that are gong on here.
GaH: I would like to see a Doncaster university not just doing learning for learning's sake, If there was a Doncaster university I would like to see people doing things and creating things. That is where civic pride comes from.
SD: A lot of graduates at Sheffield stay there. I want people to com to Doncaster on placement and want to start to work for us.
CM: I think having a Doncaster campus of a university creates a student vibe and starts to attract people, and starts to regenerate the area more broadly.