THE drive to educate more and more pupils through work-related activities stepped up a gear in the past week as enterprise education emerged to become a significant player in the Government's key social inclusion strategy.
At an education seminar in Brussels, one of many events to mark Scotland Week in the European Union, Henry McLeish, the Enterprise and Lifelong Learning Minister, announced that the Scottish Executive is commissioning research to see whether there is any conclusive proof that enterprise approaches benefit disadvantaged youngsters.
"There is increasing anecdotal evidence that job-related aspects of education, and enterprise education, have a very positive impact on the attendance, behaviour and attainment of otherwise disaffected young people," Mr McLeish said.
The latest addition to the "Primary 1 to plc" strategy for enterprise education developed by Scottish Enterprise is to be a new "get into enterprise" programme for 14 to 25-year-olds, to be launched in Castlemilk on November 8.
The initiative is particularly aimed at those described by Gordon McVie, associate director of the National Centre: Education for Work and Enterprise, as "the five Ds - the disaffected, the disinterested, the disillusioned, the disadvantaged and all too often the disappeared".
The programme will embody the approach that has made Scotland a world leader in the enterprise education field. It will be based on the assumption that young people should develop entrepreneurial skills and think of self-employment as a viable option.
The skills required are seen as vital for education, improving pupils' levels of initiative, self-
confidence, enthusiasm and adaptability - and therefore their achievements and chances of employment.
Mr McLeish strongly endorsed these moves and said he wanted even more schools, pupils and teachers to become involved. He suggested there should be "champions" for enterprise in every school. The Executive has committed pound;400,000 a year over the next three years to send 3,600 teachers on 10-day enterprise awareness placements, the equivalent of three teachers per secondary and one per primary.
The National Centre, based at Jordanhill, which will manage the teacher placement programme, also has plans to bring more young entrepreneurs into schools to enthuse pupils. They will be deliberately chosen to be closer in age to their target audience, and therefore of greater relevance than "the Tom Farmers and the Brian Souters", Mr McVie says.
Mr McLeish praised the fact that 70 per cent of Scottish secondaries have projects with an enterprise element and that 80 per cent of primaries have at least one teacher who has undertaken enterprise education training. "Enterprise is, for young participants, not only fun but a very effective teaching mechanism," he said.
The imminent HMI report on education-industry links, drawing on best practice from 27 primary, secondary and special schools, is likely to endorse the importance of spreading these approaches throughout the system. The report will expect every school and education authority to develop a policy on education for work and a designated person to make sure it is put into practice.
The inspectors are likely to urge schools to regard enterprise activities as a central feature of the drive to raise standards and one which can be delivered through the existing curriculum. Enterprise should not be seen as a "bolt-on", HMI will say.
Brian Twiddle, director of the National Centre, said enterprise had to win credibility in schools by being measured against its contribution to raising attainment. "If enterprise and education are seen as opposed to each other, we'll never get anywhere," he said.
Mr Twiddle urged schools to ensure that enterprise activities passed two tests. "Is the activity real and are the kids taking responsibility for it? If they aren't taking responsibility, it means there is no risk of failure and therefore no real learning taking place."
A warning that "there is still a job of persuasion to be done to embed enterprise principles into educational institutions" came from Colin Brown, who heads the Scottish Executive's transition into work group.
"We have to convince them that this is something that will help education, not something running counter to it," Mr Brown said. "We need to prove that education for work works for education because it is essential there is sustainable commitment to it."
Mr McLeish agreed that there had to be a balance. Schools had to be less reluctant to embrace employer involvement, while businesses must recognise that schools cannot have a narrow focus on producing recruits "on spec" to do a particular job.
But Scotland's efforts to date were praised at the Brussels seminar - by an outsider. Anders Hingel, head of the policy unit in the European Commission's education directorate, said only Wales and the Basque region have the same "dynamic" between education and enterprise as Scotland.
The seminar also heard of growing enterprise activities in further and higher education, emphasising that it is "enterprise for all"
- academic high-flyers as well as the socially excluded.
Almost every university is now involved in promoting entrepreneurship and one college, Kilmarnock, assesses all students for entrepreneurial potential.