Empowering young people: the UCL Institute of Education joins the Fair Education Alliance

The UCL Institute of Education (IOE) is delighted to join the Fair Education Alliance and to join forces with other leading organisations to bring the advantages of education to all.

As the world’s leading centre for research and development in education, ranked first in the world for education in the QS global rankings of universities for the past three years in a row, we typically account for over a quarter of the UK’s education research funding. At the heart of our mission is a commitment to social justice, and we have influenced policy and spending, curriculum design, service delivery and professional practice to help ameliorate the effects of social disadvantage across all life stages.

We hope, therefore, to work with the Fair Education Alliance to help it achieve all its impact goals, from literacy and numeracy at primary school, through to narrowing the gap in university graduation. However, for the initial focus of our work with the Alliance, I have chosen an area which sometimes receives less public attention than the school and university sectors: Impact Goal 4, to narrow the gap in the proportion of young people taking part in further education or employment-based training after finishing their GCSEs.

The transition from education to work can be hard to achieve for those from lower income backgrounds, and we have long argued for a more unified 14-19 curriculum to ensure that all young people experience both theoretical and applied learning opportunities that empower them to make informed choices for the future. We have recently researched the role of provision for 14-16 year olds in further education colleges in supporting progression into further education and employment, and have worked with partners on guidance related to 16-19 Study Programmes. We are leading projects designed to improve the quality of careers education, information, advice and guidance and, following research on 14+ participation, progression and attainment, provided evidence to a number of select committees.

Recent research from our Centre for Post-14 Education and Work has focused on building local and regional high skills ecosystems, in which employers, post-16 education providers and local and regional organisations collaborate to develop the technical and vocational education required for economic prosperity. This has involved innovative, sustainable partnerships between FE providers and employers to encourage the design and delivery of new learning opportunities, as well as stimulating changes in the workplace itself. Our aim is to provide young people with high quality technical and vocational education pathways and clearer progression routes into employment and further study.

We are excited to be joining the Fair Education Alliance, and I see our membership as an important way for us to build new partnerships which will inform our research, help us to inform policy and practice, and make a real difference to those who have most to gain from the positive impact of education on their future health, happiness and career prospects.

Becky Francis, Director, UCL Institute of Education

Another Step Forward

Enabling Enterprise works to ensure that one day, all students are equipped with the skills, experiences and aspirations to succeed. Some days, that day seems a lot closer than others.

Today though, was one of those closer days. The uptick in my optimism was driven by the release of the third and final part of Teach First’s report on students’ progression beyond school – with this part focused on employability.


 Employability vs. Employment

The first thing that got me excited was the separation of employability from employment. To the uninitiated this might feel strange. But it is vital that we see the components of employability as being useful not just for employment but for everything that happens before then – including a child’s time in school and being able to engage with and access learning along the way.

The report makes sense of this well, sensibly breaking down employability into three components: Firstly, information and guidance on what students’ employment and study options look like after school and the requirements to achieve those. Secondly, the usefulness of linking academic study in lessons to real-world application, bridging the classroom and the real world. Thirdly, and most interestingly, the development of the employability skills that young people need.


Employability Skills

It is hugely refreshing to see this third element here. Too often, employability skills are an after-thought or a polite cough – in teaching we still too often see them as unteachable whereas the provision of information and curriculum tweaks are tangible and actionable. Too often have teachers told me about their natural team leaders, natural presenters or natural leaders. And, by implication, those who are not.

Enabling Enterprise does take students to visit employers, increasing their understanding of the working world. We also provide a curriculum used with over 60,000 students last year to link classroom learning to the work of over 100 employers. But our primary focus is on building the skills that students need: Eight vital skills that we call the ‘enterprise skills’ but are equally life skills, soft skills, employability skills or achievement skills. They are: Teamwork; Leadership; Presenting; Understanding Others; Creativity; Problem-solving; Aiming High; and Staying Positive.


Teaching Skills

And the jury is very much in on their teachability: Recent work by the Jubilee Centre has confirmed that skills can be taught, and there is a growing body of evidence on individual skills – including the essential building blocks of resilience and empathy that the rest are built from. In this last year alone, Enabling Enterprise has tracked the skills of over 5,000 students across the year to see that not only are these skills teachable and measurable, but that it is possible for students, irrelevant of background, to be put on a successful trajectory for the future.

The Report highlights two of the key approaches that we have taken at Enabling Enterprise – adding rigour to employability skill development through measurability, and starting young from the age of 5. Together these make a huge difference, making the development of employability skills a key part of a students’ whole experience of school and also unlocking learning along the way. Of course, the skills at the beginning aren’t about employability at all – they’re about being empathetic and resilient. But they are the building blocks of success in school and thereafter.  

To really make the difference though, there are three equally vital principles to make the development of employability skills really effective in school: Firstly, to choose a limited number of skills to focus on (we think eight is an upper limit) and use this consistently. Secondly, to use the understanding built by measuring students’ skills to really keep them working in their stretch zones – not just doing activities but actually building their skills. And finally, to show how those same skills are useful in school and in whatever they want to do next.


Looking Forwards

There is still a lot of work to be done. But we have seen that individual students can transform their skills, that this can be the case in whole classrooms, and in whole schools. We hope this report will be another nudge towards ensuring that one day, all students are developing the employability skills they need to succeed. .



Enabling Enterprise is an award-winning partnership of 230 schools and 110 employers, working to build students’ employability skills, experiences of the working world and aspirations. Find out more and get involved at


Tom Ravenscroft, Founder & CEO, Enabling Enterprise