Livery Education Conference

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Alderman Robert Hughes-Penney passionately addresses the 10th Livery Education Conference, highlighting the diverse history of education, emphasising the need for well-rounded character development alongside academic learning, and expressing gratitude to the City's livery companies for their enduring support in shaping generations of young minds.

Tues 21st November 

Master, Chairman, honoured guests, it is my huge pleasure to be with you today at this important conference, the 10th Livery Education Conference. The UK, and the world, is changing fast, and equipping young people with the skills they need for the future job market has never been more important. 

The Lord Mayor and Sheriffs have asked me to pass on their apologies, their thanks to the Livery Schools Link for arranging the conference, and good wishes for a successful and stimulating time. Sadly, they cannot be here today due to the busyness of their diaries and prior commitments. 

For those who don’t know me, I’m Alderman Robert Hughes-Penney. 

I am also the product of the Livery schools system. So, maybe it is appropriate that the civic diaries worked like this and that I am able to be with you today. I had the privilege of attending Haberdashers’ Boys School. A school founded in 1690 by a wealthy benefactor which for many years was a direct grant school before moving into the independent sector in the 1970s. 

Master, Merchant Taylors were just down the road from us, and I can share with fellow guests that the sporting rivalry was a fierce, as any medieval meeting of the guilds on Cheapside. 

Now the City is very proud of its own schools, comprising independent, co-sponsored and sole sponsored academies, and those it is associated with through Livery associations, many of which are represented here today. 

The Corporation’s Education Strategy includes Leaders, teachers and all learners in the City Family of Schools, as well as the Adult Skills and Education Service, and Apprenticeships Scheme, not to mention the Culture Mile and Culture Mile Learning Partners. 

Indeed, in his speech at the Banquet last week the Lord Mayor referenced the City being home to 40 learned societies, 70 higher education institutions and 130 research institutes. And he reminded us that the so-called coffee house “penny universities” evolved into the London Stock Exchange and Lloyd’s of London. So, we see even then the link between education and the business aspects of the City. 

But I stand before you as an Alderman of the City with 30 years’ experience in the investment world. And so I hesitate to speak before this experienced audience on the subject of education. 

But what is education? Albert Einstein famously said that “Education is what remains after one has forgotten what one has learned in school.” To which I would respond; Yes but… 

Education draws inspiration from The Gymnasium. Alexander the Great needs little introduction. Whilst often remembered as an effective military leader his education was hardly limited to military arts. He and a group of friends were tutored in literature, philosophy and science by Aristotle. From the earliest beginnings of Greek education, in the cave of philosopher Pythagoras, the search for wisdom and understanding was undertaken in small communities. 

Later periods saw the emergence of The Monastery, where life was defined by a continuous direction of the mind to a single transcendent purpose. In short it was a life of concentrated attention. Hildegard of Bingen emerged from this period, and she had great political and moral influence in the time. 

The flowering of the monastic culture gave birth the universities - with the Latin roots of the word “university” meaning both “whole” and “community”. And the Victorian polymath John Henry Newman’s vision was for the whole, in which individuals developed and found their place in a larger intellectual community. 

But the university route isn’t the only way. The emergence of the craft Guilds were not just economic but also educational institutions. I barely need to remind this audience of the creative and productive power of the guilds and liveries. And while there were significant variations among the liveries the standard method of training was the apprenticeship, typically lasting four to six years. In addition to education the liveries also provided regulation and community – a rich legacy that should continue to inform our current attempts to create more organic forms of training for a wide variety of professions. 

And I want to honour the City’s livery companies who have supported and educated generation after generation of young people in the City and beyond. 

History offers an inspiring list of individuals who accomplished great things without a university degree; Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Bach, our late Queen, Jane Austen, Alfred Tennyson, Thomas Edison, Coco Chanel and of course Steve Jobs. 

The educational background of these individuals should liberate our thinking about what is possible for the realisation of human potential today and the numerous routes individuals can take to make a positive contribution to the life of this great City. 

Indeed, we in the City are in desperate need for well-educated individuals. Many business leaders I talk to regularly speak of the war for talent, both domestically and internationally. And we must communicate that individuals are welcome into the City either via the school/university route or the increasingly popular apprenticeship route whatever the background. As well as the well-publicised diversity criteria we seek cognitive diversity, talent, commitment and aptitude wherever it shines. 

Yet our tendency is often to think of “certificate or grade acquisition” as distinct from the more holistic work of self-formation. Yes, we must learn Maths, and let’s ensure it is usable and applicable maths, or IT skills, but let’s do so in a view of education, in some sense character education, that comprises honesty, gratitude, humility and restraint. Ethics and philosophy are going to be vital as we contend with future technological developments and AI. Some may have read Stephen Covey’s 8th habit from Effectiveness to Greatness in which he posits that the 5th age of civilisation, after knowledge and technology, is Wisdom. 

William Burroughs famously said “The aim of education is the knowledge, not of facts, but of values.” 

These characteristics, honesty, gratitude, humility and restraint; the product of an education of the whole person, all remain vital underpins for any individual taking their place here in the City of London. Let us be clear that with virtues such as these individuals will make, cannot fail to make, a constructive contribution to their family, their community and their workplace. 

I do not believe we can be or should be prescriptive about the education routes that individuals take or be narrow in defining what good looks like. We need to equip and train with the very best methods available for the individual student so that they are equipped and released into the City workforce, ready and able to play their part and make their contribution. We have all heard the quote “Give a person a fish and you feed them for a day; teach a person to fish and you feed them for a lifetime.” This remains as true today as it ever was. 

This gathering is an important forum, look around this Hall and ponder, the individuals here are responsible for and influencing the lives of tens of thousands of young people. 

It is a vital and significant role for which we are gathered, whether you call it a domino or butterfly effect, the thoughts, conversations and actions arising out of this gathering can have a huge influence in the lives of individuals and our communities, and the City. And on behalf of the City and the Lord Mayor can I thank you for your commitment to education. 

I wish you a very good, stimulating, and productive day. Thank you