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It’s a venue more used to rock music and sport but 3,000 teachers and trainee teachers discussed business and the next generation at the Leeds Arena (Thurs 30 July).

audienceThe session was part of education charity Teach First’s major end-of-year conference and chaired by the CBI’s new President Paul Drechsler, who is also Chairman of Teach First.

Speaking at the event, Paul said believes all businesses have a responsibility to make sure the next generation has better opportunities than previous ones. He also accepts, how-well companies deliver on that influences wider trust-in-business – the issue at the heart of the CBI’s Great Business Debate.

Our panellists were:

Kathleen Britain, Head of Community Investment, Barclays
Ife Grillo, Member of the UK Youth Parliament
Professor Sir John Holman, University of York
Sara Parker, Chief Membership Director, CBI
Les Ratcliffe, Head of Community Relations, Jaguar Land Rover

Via social media, our biggest-ever audience asked our most-ever questions in a Great Business Debate. The pace was fast as our panel fired answers back — some highlights from the discussion below:

Twitter snap shotSara Parker, CBI said she believes this topic is key for business because economic success requires the country to maximise every skill and talent we have. At the moment, we have one of the lowest rates of social mobility in the OECD while youth unemployment is still too high.

The CBI says education is the best long-term tool for boosting social mobility and business has a big role to play. Three quarters of employers tell the CBI they already have links with schools or colleges but there is more to be done.

Sara Parker also said: we should let children be children. They are inquisitive, thirsty for knowledge. We need to answer their questions, give them energy in the areas that matter. That’s where business can help. And she received applause when finishing the point by adding, we should let teachers be teachers.

Kathleen Britain, Barclays made the case that some businesses are really getting this right and the most important thing is listening to young people. She said, Barclays wants to produce products young people want and to be the company they want to work for.

She felt that education has a big role to play in producing more female business leaders which is vital to addressing the gender pay gap

Ife Grillo, UK Youth Parliament made the point that business has the biggest responsibility to children from disadvantaged backgrounds. But there are groups of parents who feel they’ll be judged in a certain way. For example, business can be all about acronyms and jargon — this can make parents and children feel they are stupid.

Ife said he thinks it’s often not a big ask that’s being made of business. For primary schools in particular it can be just a case of: will a local business spare an hour to give pupils a short talk?
He also expressed concern that business can be exploitative. “What young people don’t need is more unpaid internships”, he said.

Professor Sir John Holman, University of York said he thought that interpersonal skills are very important, commenting that independent schools work at this all the time. Kids spend whole lessons learning how to approach business people, for example. He wishes every school child could have that.

His answer to the question, ‘should children just be allowed to be children?’ was that yes, kids should be kids. To him that meant all children need schools to provide multiple opportunities and chances for them to experience success.

Les Ratcliffe, Jaguar Land Rover made a personal observation concerning his 11 year old grandson: when he asks what Les does at Jaguar Land Rover, it gives him an opportunity to start explain to him what business is about.

Les went on to say that smaller businesses may not know how they can contribute to education or may not feel they have the resources. He was clear that it’s not a question of private schools or state school — it’s leadership and teachers that make the big difference.

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