LSI recently attended an event at the House of Lords that celebrated Business Class, a Business In The Community Initiative that partners businesses with schools. LSI are partnered with Open Academy, alongside Mills & Reeve and Alan Boswell Group, and Principal of the Academy Jon Platten gave an inspiring speech at the event on how partnerships with businesses had helped to positively impact the lives of students at Open Academy, which you can read below:

Good afternoon.  My name is Jon Platten and I am privileged to be Principal of the Open Academy in Norwich.  When I say “privileged,” it hasn’t always been that way.  When I took on the job, I was the third person in the post in 18 months.  At interview, I could see why.  On the student panel, I asked one student what his favourite lesson was.  His reply was intriguing – Tutor time.  “Oh yes,” I replied, “Why’s that?”  “Because we just sit around and do nothing.”  I then asked a 15 year old what he wanted to do when he left school.  His reply was an indifferent shrug.  Things had to change and change they did.

In 2013, reflecting on the CBI’s First Steps report, John Cridland said that Businesses want young people who have been academically stretched but who also display a set of behaviours that are vital for success, including determination, optimism and emotional intelligence.

Business In The Community exists to bring the two worlds of education and business together.  At the Open Academy, working together with business, the indifference personified in that despondent shrug has been eliminated.  And everyone benefits: schools, businesses and the wider economy.

The Open Academy serves the fourth most deprived catchment area in the East of England.  But our ambition is limitless.  Last summer, 14 students – out of 14 – were successful in gaining places in Higher Education.  Of those 14, not one had a history of anyone in their family going to university.

Something we impress on all our students right from the start is that school is not just somewhere you go to pass the time until you are 16.  Before they start with us, in a meeting with them and their parents, we ask them what they want to do when they leave school.  Over the years that follow, our business links help to keep the real world real to them.

Through Business in the Community, we partner with three companies: Mills & Reeve, a major UK law firm, for eleven years running, one of The Sunday Times 100 Best Companies To Work For, Alan Boswell Group, a Top 20 Independent Insurance Broker and LSI Architects, an AJ Top 100 UK practice with offices in Norwich and London.
The first thing I would emphasise is that just by partnering with local schools, businesses are bestowing a degree of kudos on those schools.  For companies of that standing to work with a school like ours lifts the whole community.

Joint projects have been both broad and specific.  They include presentations by apprentices within the company to whole year groups of students considering their futures.  The focus has been on the wide range of jobs available within a single company.  At a more specific level, companies have offered “Personal Impact Training.”  This has given a select group of able but unconfident students advice and practice in CVs and preparing for interviews.

But don’t just take my word for it; this is what the companies themselves say about the benefits of BITC: it allows their staff to be involved with the future workforce, it supports their apprenticeship programme, giving current apprentices the opportunity to present to young people locally, thereby improving their communication and presentation skills, it is also an excellent opportunity to network with the other key strategic partners from the cluster (these include Archant, KLM & Marsh) in order to share best practice.

The benefits of these more formal relationships with businesses are seen in the changing attitude to work experience.  Five years ago, just weeks after I had taken on the job, I was called to a major company based in Norwich because one of our students had been sacked from work experience.  He had not understood the concept of a dress code, turning up each day in shorts, and the result was an ignominious sacking.

However, when I go out on work experience visits now, the contrast is amazing.  I have had a student tell me with pride about his arriving early to work every day.  I have had employers remark enthusiastically on the initiative and commitment of our students.  And part-time jobs and other opportunities have been offered on the basis of what businesses have seen.

The Open Academy is currently the most improved school in Norwich.  GCSE results have tripled.  We have seen a growth of 42% in student numbers at a time of falling rolls, and increased competition in the shape of 3 new secondary schools in the city.  At age 16, the figure for students NOT going into education or employment with training – what is referred to as the NEET figure – is 1%.  This is 9% better than national.  At sixth form, it is zero. Our business links have been fundamental to this transformation.

So my final comment would be to those of you who have not yet considered partnering with schools through Business in the Community.  It is not just a matter of Corporate Social Responsibility.  It is a matter of transforming lives.  And businesses.  For good.