New research examines external speakers in state and independent schools

Two leading education charities, Education and Employers & Speakers for Schools have joined together to publish a new report evaluating the impact of external speakers in secondary schools.

Insights and Inspiration: Evaluating the impact of guest speakers in schools evaluated the approaches taken by both leading independent and state schools to structuring and investing in talks and the impact on student attitude and confidence.

The findings include:

  • leading independent schools leverage strong social capital to invite leaders from across public life to speak to pupils, as well as drawing on extensive alumni and parental networks.
  • the vast majority of young people are positive about the benefits from talks across nine areas tested, including attitudes, motivation, careers understanding and self-belief - with 88% responding talks had helped them to see how to overcome setbacks.
  • attitudes and motivation improved most for students who had been to more talks, with the biggest impact on pupils on free school meals - with 32% higher odds of self-efficacy with each extra talk and 30% higher does that “people like me” can be successful. 
  • students who could not recall any talks were five times more likely to believe that their background held them back in achieving their ambitions compared to those who could recall eight or more talks.
  • teachers were far more likely to feel their school was doing enough to prepare young people for the future world of work when they offered talks. Teachers who offered talks had 171% higher odds of being confident in their school’s career provision than those who didn’t.
  • teachers were more confident their school was doing enough to prepare young people for their future. This linking talks to the curriculum: 
    • giving students the chance to interact with guest speakers;
    • preparing students for the talk, including giving biographies and preparing potential questions;
    • inviting speakers to the school based on who the students want to hear from;
    • allocating lesson time for students to discuss the talk with staff and peers after it has taken place.
  • engaged state schools are creative and ambitious in drawing on multiple methods for approaching guest speakers, typically in the face of limited budgets - only 14% of schools had a budget for outside talks.
  • 77% of respondents used four or more out of the five methods listed for reaching out to speakers: formal access databases, online matchmaking, alumni, informal networks and direct outreach. The more methods our teachers used, the more confident they felt that their school was doing enough to prepare young people for their future.
  • senior leaders’ involvement ensured more activities like talks took place – an average of 7.9 over the last school year, compared to 6.7 when the senior team were not involved at all, an increase of 18%.

Robert Peston, Founder of Speakers for Schools said:

“I created Speakers for Schools because I was infuriated that only the leading independent schools were asking me to give talks to their students, rather than the kind of state school which gave me such a great and rounded education in the 1970s.

“I took it for granted that students would be inspired and excited by brilliant speakers who share their expertise and explain how they overcome the obstacles in their lives that we all have to face at some point.

“Schools that engage in programmes like ours are more likely to foster confidence and ambition in their students. And the impact is greatest on those from more disadvantaged backgrounds.”

Education and Employers CEO Nick Chambers said: 

“I have seen first-hand the positive impact visiting speakers can have on young people. It helps excite them about the subjects they are studying, broadens their horizons, raises their aspirations and shows them the range of jobs and career routes open to them.

“Leading independent schools are very effective at drawing on their extensive network of parents, alumni and contacts to help their students but at the moment the same access is closed off to millions of pupils in the state system.

“We are exploring how independent schools could leverage their networks the good of the entire education system. All young people need a pool of inspiring role models, employers and volunteers - regardless of their school, their background or their parents”

Independent and State schools

Insights and Inspiration explores how independent and state sectors structure and invest in external speakers - and the impact on students’ attitude and confidence.

The findings included:

  • state schools need to work with more external speakers to break down ingrained social, ethnic and gender stereotypes that meant certain career paths were not for people “like them” - including a greater focus on aspirations; tackling stereotyping; motivations to work harder; self-belief; more ‘rounded people’ (social/personal skills; resilience; HE admission; CVs; and networks). 
  • independent schools use external speakers practically - to help polish social skills; CV content, interview preparation and university admissions, as part of a making pupils more “rounded”. In independent schools:
    • “noted that students attending their prestigious and expensive schools were, by the time they were finishing sixth form, typically well rounded, personally effective and motivated young people.
    • “talks and interactions with guest speakers were useful in developing students’ social skills by giving them a chance to interact with an adult that was not their parent, teacher or housemaster.”
    • “talks and interactions with speakers were seen as a means of enhancing the maturation of pupils and often discussed in relation to other activities designed to secure similar outcomes, such as volunteer working, community engagement and extra-curricular activities. Such activities were described in terms of developing ‘more rounded pupils’ which all schools knew would help to in the first instance create a stronger university application and ultimately put alumni at an advantage in the job market, but also give students key capabilities needed to flourish in wider life”.

The report makes underlines the requirement to support state schools to do everything we can to help schools and stakeholders to:

  • engage as many guest speakers as possible, delivering insight talks and inspiration across the country.
  • emphasise as diverse a range of speakers as possible, and draw on diverse sources to engage them: online match-making services, formal access organisations, as well as alumni, parents and direct approaches.
  • apply standard good practice – especially inviting speakers based on who students want to hear from, preparing students for the talks, integrating talks with the curriculum and other provision, and making the talks interactive.
  • explore opportunities to make the most of individual events, such as by collaborating across local schools, both state and independent, to have more and more diverse speakers engaging with larger groups of students, with events cross promoted and logistics organised to facilitate joint attendance.

Insights and Inspiration was based on: 

  • a survey with 327 staff from 303 state schools and colleges in our networks plus six follow-up interview.
  • a survey with 858 state school students from around 50 schools and colleges in our networks.
  • interviews with 14 high-performing independent schools, supported by desk research

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