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Back to the breakfast table

The McKinsey survey of business contribution to secondary education in London (see page 7) has had a mixed response. The Confederation of British Industry welcomes the Teach for London initiative. "If business can help encourage the best graduates to go into schools, that is a good thing," says a CBI spokesman. "Business depends on a skilled workforce, so businesses are keen on good quality teaching so that students come out well educated and ready for the world of work."

But the CBI has questioned the Business Education Skills Transfer proposal to second business people into schools. "We need to be convinced that this way of bringing business in to help is the best way of doing it," the spokesman adds.

Chris Humphries, director general of City and Guilds and the former head of the British Chambers of Commerce, agrees. "If I have a worry about this report, it would be that it mustn't be initiative led. The biggest issue is the calibre of those who run the education-business partnerships and developing the skills that bring the two sides more effectively together."

He says industry should also help youngsters to know the extent of their career opportunities.

"We're encouraging too many youngsters to go into arts-based higher education when most job opportunities that pay well are in technical and vocational areas. This is a key issue. There is a huge misunderstanding among teachers, parents and young people about the value and quality of jobs. It's important that someone in the business community takes responsibility for helping people to know what's available to them."

Clarissa Williams, head of Tolworth girls' school and a spokeswoman for the National Association of Head Teachers, agrees that partnerships lack focus.

"There used to be a forum for debate, breakfast meetings and events set up by education business partnerships which allowed the two sides to talk about what each could offer the other. That's got a little lost because of so many other initiatives - but it's not that people haven't wanted to. We've now got learning and skills councils which are much bigger, and I think the local scene has in a sense become dispersed."

She says companies could have a greater role in encouraging parents to participate in education.

"One issue we've found is that parents are saying they can't come to parents' evenings at such and such a time because they can't get time off work," she says. "Just as businesses talk about being family-friendly, they could give employees time to visit their children's schools for special events - without parents having to take time off their leave.

"There should be an entitlement from business at any level so that parents can attend a parents' evening at a time that suits the school and the parents.

"Getting school governors from the business community is becoming increasingly difficult. Again, good companies would encourage their employees to become governors of schools - but it's got to be a lot more overt and it could be encouraged much more by the Government."

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