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Business partnerships

With ICT expenditure in schools at an all-time high, how efficiently is that money being spent? And why are there such disparities? How can you get the most for your money and ensure your school gets what it really needs? George Cole looks at the broader issues of ICT funding, while other writers examine the key issues in depth

Would you be surprised to learn that 35 per cent of school students questioned in a recent survey thought that ICT would have limited use in their future work? In the same survey, sponsored by Sussex Careers Service and HSBC, 98 per cent of the employees questioned used ICT. Although not a wide-ranging survey, it does ask some interesting questions. Considering the prevalence of ICT in the work place, isn't it alarming that 35 per cent of students have not been helped to realise its importance to their future? Most of the ICT use in schools is concerned with teaching ICT as a discrete subject or using it in English, in maths and other subject areas.

There has always been an ambivalent attitude in education towards business. Those who share that attitude fondly believe that it is an academic view. The problem is that academia no longer believes it. Every university in the UK has close alliances with business. The truth is that business has a great deal to learn from education and education has just as much to learn from business.

In his TES keynote speech at BETT 2001, David Puttnam focused closely on professional development of teachers. He illustrated how unique the teaching profession is by quoting the US Department of Labour statistics that the average worker changes career between five or seven times. "It's knowing that you're likely to change jobs that prompts most of us to take far greater care of our own employability - our own skill sets - than if we intended to stay in the same place, doing roughly the same thing, for 30 years. The normal self-evaluation that happens every time one contemplates moving job ('What are my strengths?' 'What do I enjoy?') simply doesn't occur."

David Puttnam could have also asked how the employment experiences of teachers fit us for dealing with students who are going to this very different job market where they will have half a dozen jobs. Does it influence what we are teaching, what we are learning, the way we are teaching? Should it?

A DFEE pilot project run currently by Hertfordshire Education Business Partnership (HEBP) with a group of local science teachers illustrates how the learning can start to happen. The aim is to make an impact on the professional development of teachers involved in the co-ordination of ICT in their school. Teachers are investigating sectors of employment important in the county. These include research and development, health and social care ad pharmaceuticals.

The idea behind the project is to provide a model of professional development placements and workshops focusing on the different applications of ICT in a scientific environment which give the teacher insights into the impact on employment, skills needs, current practice and innovation. Hopefully this will enable the teachers to bring accurate labour market information into their teaching. The teachers will also be asked to look at the environmental impact of ICT.

Over the next six months the teachers will be involved with four placements and additional workshops where experiences will be shared and reflected on. Participating companies such as Roche Pharmaceuticals will demonstrate how ICT is used through the pharmaceutical industry, following a product from research to manufacture and marketing. NHS Direct will show how they use ICT in diagnosis, providing information on the NHS and how plans to network NHS Direct are developing.

Menna Easton, education business officer at HEBP, says "We are building the ICT strand into most of our placement programmes so that all teachers, whether from primary or secondary, will see the impact ICT has had on the workplace. The model that we are piloting can be adapted for any subject area and employers have been keen to support it."

Teachers will often claim that these kind of experiences are difficult to access. However, the world of education and business is about to change. For many years there have been a number of organisations that deal with education and business. They each have their own focus and have often worked independently at local level. The new Learning and Skills Council (LSC), which will operate from April 1, 2001, has the responsibility for ensuring the effective provision of education business links in each of the 47 Local LSC areas.

The LSC will also have to ensure that all the organisations work together to present to schools a structure that is clear and easy to deal with. One of their remits is to deliver programmes that will support "the national curriculum with activities that bring the curriculum to life and relate it to the real world."

Hopefully, out of these new arrangements will grow relationships between business and education that will ensure that students see that ICT is not only relevant to their future but to the future of the economic success of UK.

Gloria Sayer is manager of Hertfordshire Education Business Partnership and was vice chair of the National Education Business Partnership from 1996 to 2000 For further information about Hertfordshire's project contact Menna Easton at 01727 813569

Report: Young People's Attitudes to Work, Careers and Learning, Roffey Park ISBN 0 907416 56 X

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