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Closer links reap mutual benefits;Editorial

Tessa Blackstone, the Further and Higher Education minister, on her simple, yet ambitious objectives

We have a very simple but ambitious agenda: to ensure all children and young people have every opportunity to fulfil their potential. If we are successful, there will be clear benefits for everyone. Benefits for business and the economy, for parents and the community and for the young people themselves. We, in the world of education, firmly believe that the success of the agenda derives from partnerships. If we are to achieve our aim, we need to work with businesses, parents and the wider community, as well as young people.

There are a great many ways in which education and business can work together, many outlined in this supplement. However, I believe the best motivation for taking action is to hear about the success of others. The partnership of education and business has made a real difference to many people. Two examples illustrate this:

* A small bakery business in Nottingham, which needed to provide training from scratch for its employees, formed a partnership with the local college. A bakery manager was trained to manage his employees' development and progress, while the college also provided an up to date personal computer through its Learning Communities project. The company benefited from cost-effective training and a more motivated workforce.

* A Modern Apprentice of the Year finalist, employed by a car-care manufacturing company, has now gone on to do an NVQ4 in management. The 21-year-old's contribution to her company was not only recognised by the Modern Apprentice of the Year judges, but also earned her a National Training Award.

Such things don't just happen. They need people to work together and they need the framework to help them succeed. Two nationwide initiatives, in which business involvement is a vital part, have already had a widespread impact on people's lives: specialist schools and Education Action Zones.

Businesses backing specialist schools - technology, languages, sports and arts colleges - have contributed substantial sums of money. Leading companies, such as British Aerospace, British Airways and the HSBC Group, as well as a very large number of smaller companies, have enthusiastically provided personnel and resources. There are now 330 specialist schools, each of which have received private sector sponsorship of at least pound;100,000. We now expect to build on this foundation and expand the programme to 500 schools by 2002.

Between them the 25 Education Action Zones already created have generated more than pound;5 million in business support to date. We have now shortlisted 47 of the 123 applications we received for the second round of the zones - many of them led by schools, and many with strong business support. Before the final selection is made, the zones will be supported in developing their proposals in greater detail and with more clarity. The development of partnerships for the zones, particularly with businesses and parent groups, has led to an exciting range of imaginative strategies for improving teaching and learning.

There are many other ways for education and business to work together. I believe that effective partnership in tackling underachievement, social exclusion and disaffection is vital to our success as a nation. We will continue to encourage such links and to create the framework to make them possible, but in the end the success we all want to see is a matter for us all. Whether you are in education or in business, please get involved. It really can make a difference.

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