NORTHERN LIGHTS: Education works for individuals and it works for society

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Education matters. The global evidence is clear, says Professor Chris Husbands, Vice-Chancellor of Sheffield Hallam University.

Education works for individuals and it works for society. There’s good evidence that it offers powerful returns to individuals. Around the world, there is a salary premium of about 13% to those who have a degree qualification, but the advantages are not simply material. Higher levels of education attainment seem to produce better health and longer life – the research suggests 1.7 additional years of life per additional year of education.

But there are advantages to society too. Better educated societies appear to have lower criminal justice costs and lower health care costs, and to be characterised by faster economic growth. None of this is accidental.

The power, potential and advantages that flow from education are driven by investments, investments in schools and colleges, but, above all, investments in universities. Universities are the catalysts of successful advanced urban economies.

They fulfil this role in several ways – driving innovation and research which boosts productivity and further innovation, by providing good quality employment, directly through those they employ and indirectly across their regions, and by training and educating the next generation of professionals, who themselves drive future success.

High quality universities produce high quality economies and successful societies. And so accolades for success matter. Sheffield Hallam University’s Sheffield Institute of Education (SIoE) has just received a glowing report from the education inspectorate OFSTED. The quality of the training it provides for early years and primary teachers was rated by OFSTED as ‘outstanding’ and the training for secondary and further education was rated as consistently ‘good’. SIOE’s early years training is the only early years training provision in the country to secure ‘outstanding’ for every aspect of provision. That is an incredible achievement. As Vice-Chancellor of the University I am simply delighted that the work of my colleagues has been recognised in this way by OFSTED – delighted, but not surprised, because I know they do an excellent job. But the importance of this finding isn’t limited to making me feel good. It means that schools, early years settings and colleges, and pupils and parents across the region can be confident that the teachers emerging from this University are amongst the best trained and educated in the country.

This is also important because of the scale at which the Sheffield Institute of Education operates. SIoE educates more than a thousand new teachers each year, and, last year, more than 90% of those were employed within six months of graduating. The OFSTED report is clear in its praise of the work SIoE does. It says: “All those involved in the partnership are ambitious in their drive to provide high-quality teacher training. There is a clear vision and unrelenting commitment to meeting the region’s teacher recruitment needs”.

Another observation made by OFSTED in their report says: “The partnership makes a very strong contribution to teacher supply in the region, especially in the Yorkshire and Humber area. Many NQTs and former trainees gain employment in settings that are in challenging socioeconomic circumstances”.

We know that there are pockets of real deprivation in our county and wider region and we are helping to develop a consistently high quality, confident and employable teacher workforce that is equipped to deal with the challenges of teaching in these environments and helping to raise the aspirations of all young people.

An initiative that highlights this perfectly is the training we give to our students on recent advances in thinking about social and emotional development, and specialist input on autism. This adds greatly to trainees’ understanding of the factors that underlie children’s behaviour and can help them to break down the barriers between young people and the education system.

The success in OFSTED inspection comes on the back of the launch of South Yorkshire Futures, Hallam’s ambitious programme of support for education improvement across the city region, which I wrote about recently, and which is building support and momentum for real and sustained improvement in education for all our young people. Outstanding teacher training is a superb foundation on which to build. On its own, of course, it’s not enough: there are other powerful levers for change and improvement in schools and colleges. Even the most outstanding teaching cannot overcome all the barriers of disadvantage. The momentum from South Yorkshire Futures must be maintained by us and our partners – we are committed and passionate about this project. It will play a significant role in improving the life chances of young people – those same young people who will be so crucial in improving the future of this region.

A university’s contribution to its region is much more than the sum of its parts, but getting the basics right with outstanding training is an important building block.