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Business rescues curricular themes

The five cross-curricular themes, which died a quiet death during Sir Ron Dearing's national curriculum review, have been revived by a group of industrialists with the backing of the Government.

The industrialists, led by Richard Martineau, chairman of the London Enterprise Agency and pioneer of school-business Compact agreements, have produced a document called "Pathways Toward Working Life", which is being piloted in 17 schools in London, Cheshire and Doncaster.

The Department for Education is contributing Pounds 10,000 towards the cost of evaluating the two-year project, which has cost a total of Pounds 100,000 in its first 12 months.

The project has the blessing of the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority (SCAA) and the Office for Standards in Education. The 13 sponsors also include the Department of Employment, the Banking Information Service, Barclays Bank, BT, ESSO, Lloyds Bank and Unilever.

The aim is to provide a national framework for the study of the economy, business, careers, the environment, and health and safety.

In 1990, the National Curriculum Council, later replaced by SCAA, identified five themes as "essential" to the "whole" curriculum: economic and industrial understanding; careers guidance; health; education for citizenship, and environmental education.

But, although the themes were well-received and many schools do study them, good practice is patchy, and, as they were not mentioned in the Dearing Report, they lost status.

Richard Martineau, at the launch of "Pathways Toward Working Life" this week in London, said the original five documents were "woolly", while Brian Stevens, director of education at the Banking Information Service, described them as "unmanageable".

He argues that the themes were written separately by specialists with no attempt to integrate many of the common elements.

The industrialists, whose document is for all ages, claim to have rationalised the original themes and eradicated overlap. They hope schools' interest in economic and business themes will be revived now that Sir Ron has slimmed down the curriculum.

They were concerned about a series of reports on preparing young people for working life, including one on economic and industrial understanding by HMI two years ago. It found some good practice in schools; others which were delivering the themes without realising; and some not doing them at all.

There was "a massive amount of enthusiastic ad-hockery," said Brian Stevens, but no national co-ordination.

The project is being managed by Malcolm Brigg, an adviser to the Training, Enterprise and Education Directorate, which is part of the Employment Department, and Alma Harris, an Open University researcher.

Mr Martineau, a former NCC council member, said: "We have quite a task ahead of us to get all the employers signed up."

"Pathways Toward Working Life" from the London Enterprise Agency, 4 Snow Hill, London ECIA 2BS.

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