Benenden School has become one of the first schools in the UK to offer a course dedicated to teaching girls the general skills they need to thrive in the workplace.
On Friday (September 16), the first full day of the new Professional Skills Programme, students were helped in a business challenge by Dr Margaret Mountford, one of Lord Sugar’s original advisers on The Apprentice.
Dr Mountford’s involvement ensured it was an auspicious start for the programme, which has been launched partly in response to comments from business leaders about the lack of such skills in graduates in the UK.
Benenden’s new programme is teaching Sixth Form girls practical skills that are vital for the workplace. These include teamworking, having the confidence to turn an idea into a business proposition, giving a business pitch, developing business plans and reading complex financial information.
Benenden Headmistress Samantha Price said: “When large employers say there is a problem with the skill set of young people then I believe it is our job as school leaders to listen and to respond.
“The employment landscape is becoming increasingly competitive and young people need more than excellent academic qualifications to both secure a good job and then to thrive. Our programme is designed to support the latter.
“I hope other schools will see the value of offering such a programme and we would be delighted to work with other schools to help them develop something similar.”
Dr Mountford praised Benenden’s approach, saying: “This country’s economy thrives on the dynamism and ideas of the next generation of businesspeople so it is essential that we are equipping them with the skills they need to maximise this potential.
“Everybody would no doubt agree that IT skills, numeracy and literacy are essential to be able to flourish in the modern workplace, but far less attention is paid to skills such as successfully pitching an idea or identifying a new product’s target market.
“I have seen numerous teams over the years fail because people simply didn’t know how to behave in a team situation. They were either too passive or too aggressive. If a young person is taught these and other such skills in school then they already have an advantage when they reach the highly-competitive environment of the workplace.
“I congratulate Benenden on launching this new Professional Skills Programme and hope that other schools will follow suit.”
Drawing on her experiences from the hit BBC programme, Dr Mountford offered Benenden Sixth Formers guidance on effectively working in teams as part of a task in which they were consultants planning activities to recruit potential new students.
She then spoke to the entire School in the evening about her career, offered advice and answered students’ questions.
Lesley Tyler, Benenden’s Deputy Head Academic, has developed the Professional Skills Programme. She said: “There is no point in a young person leaving school with straight A grades if they lack the skills to function effectively in the workplace. Schools should not mistake a syllabus for an education. We see it as our duty to ensure girls leaving Benenden are equipped for the modern workplace.
“We have put an enormous amount of work into our Professional Skills Programme to ensure it is relevant, challenging and authoritative, and we are incredibly grateful to everyone who has helped us create it.”
The course has been developed in collaboration with senior figures in business and includes an entrepreneur-in-residence who will work with girls throughout this year to enhance their business acumen.
Julian Hall, an entrepreneur, author and internationally-renowned speaker, has taken up this role. He said: “The Professional Skills Programme is a great way for students to learn the real-world skills they’ll be required to have when they enter the world of employment.
“I wholly endorse the programme for its vision and response to an ever-changing world, ensuring the students of Benenden are fully prepared.”
The new programme has also been warmly welcomed by one of the country’s best-known employers.
Lucy Gosden, a Student Recruitment Manager at PwC, said: “As a major employer of school and college leavers, at PwC we recognise the importance of initiatives such as Benenden’s Professional Skills Programme to develop and equip young people to be ready for the workplace.”
Elements of the programme are already accredited by external organisations – including a Chartered Institute for Securities and Investment (CISI) financial qualification, a TEFL qualification and the Thinking Skills Assessment test used by Oxford University – and the School aims for the entire programme to develop into a formal qualification, so employers recognise that girls with the Benenden Professional Skills on their CV would know they are of a high calibre.
Tara Goodsell, 16, is one of the Benenden girls who has started the course. She said: “Having Margaret Mountford here to guide us was really inspiring.
“I’m looking forward to the rest of the Professional Skills Programme; I love learning new things and I know how important these skills will prove to be in a few years’ time.”
Zara Hussain, 16, said: “I’m hoping to be an engineer and am looking forward to being taught skills on this programme that will stay with me for life.”