Cheerleading for nothing but the truth

Ian Nash

Doubts about business-related activities in schools have prompted a thorough audit of their impact, reports Ian Nash.

Howard Davies, head of one of Britain's leading financial watchdogs, vowed this week he would not be a "cheerleader for capitalism" as he launched the biggest-ever inquiry into enterprise in education.

The chairman of the Financial Services Authority pledged that any significant reforms for schools and colleges arising from the inquiry would be costed and paid for by the Government.

Chancellor Gordon Brown gave him the assurance after ministers expressed concerns about the effectiveness of initiatives ranging from mentoring to work placements.

Mr Davies promised that the review would not promote a passive acceptance of the current economic status quo. "I don't want to be a cheerleader for capitalism any more than I would want to be a cheerleader for communism, if we were old Russia."

The review team, drawn from the Treasury, Department for Education and Skills, Department of Trade and Industry and the FSA, is examining how education, the Government and business can work together to promote enterprise and the economy.

This week Mr Davies launched a "call for evidence". He wants to hear from pupils, students and staff from early years through to further education, as well as people in government, business and anyone involved in developing an entrepreneurial culture among young people.

He already shares ministers' concerns and said the aims of many enterprise activities seemed unclear.

Teachers lacked time and space to deal properly with pupil work placements and there was poor co-ordination between the huge array of enterprise initiatives.

Young people still had "extraordinary views and caricatures" of what jobs involved and there were still damaging and deeply-divided views on the vocational role of schools, he said.

"In spite of the huge number of programmes, there is a remarkable lack of any evaluation of their impact or any real idea of what the impact ought to be."

The amount of time pupils spent on enterprise activities was equal to that of half a GCSE, he said. "But I suspect that what is being done is not of high quality."

He has already conducted a detailed analysis of initiatives over the past 25 years, such as the organisation, Understanding British Industry, and the Technical and Vocational Education Initiative scheme.

A paper will be published shortly. There will also be focus groups, large-scale consultations with students, teachers and people from industry and interested parties.

While the review is not expected to propose changes to the content of the national curriculum, it is likely to seek better organisation of resources.

Any significant new costs will be met by the Treasury, Mr Davies said. "The Chancellor agreed that if we want new things, we have to put our money where our mouth is. It is not realistic to expect schools to do it without putting a price tag on it and have the Government pay."

IMPROVING ENTERPRISE

The call for evidence seeks views on five key areas of concern:

* attitudes among pupils, students and staff * How to support teachers * The needs of business and its role * Best practice, including international comparisons * Recommendations for further government support Individuals and organisations are invited to respond to questions posted on the Davies Review website: www.daviesreview.org

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Ian Nash

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