Industry's got the message, what about schools?

A year off the next general election and Labour can rightly claim a remarkable track record in bringing about closer co-operation between industry and education.

Education action zones, local learning partnerships and part privatisation of failing public services are so well established that they seem like the product of a previous political age. In many ways they are. The Tories cleared the ground for Labour to reap the harvest.

Industry's cries of despair over the poor skills and aptitudes of school and college leavers seeking work have quietened considerably since the late 1970s. Thatcher and Major convinced captains of commerce to stop bleating and start helping.

If anything, businesses - particularly small enterprises - now despair at the sheer volume of work-related education and training initiatives. A government consultation document has revealed a confusing array of programmes, projects and delivery agents.

Hence, the demand from Eduction and Employment Secretary David Blunkett for some ground-clearing. The Leaning and Skills Act sets out plans for single agencies to take the lead locally.

Unfortunately, while industry may have come round, schools have not been kept informed about far-reaching reforms - vital consultations on which close next month.

As reports in this magazine show, many schools have had inadequate information from local education business partnerships. Others have found it all rather vague. Moreover, without the involvement of schools in decision-making, the latest efforts will not succeed.

Government efforts to improve education-industry links focus on social inclusion - to encourage pupils from groups who have felt "excluded" to remain in education and training in order to gain the higher level of skills now needed for work.

This requires an equal partnership between schools and businesses. The agencies responsible for promoting such links need to work harder to maintain genuine partnerships. Unless the EBPs act now to consult all schools, it is only a matter of time before the bleating resumes.

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