INDUSTRY still has an image problem in British academia - unfair though it may be. With a curl of the lip a lecturer tells her tutorial group that Smithers will not be joining them as he has an interview with Murky Metals. Understanding Scotland's Industry, which rose from the ashes of the CBI educational foundation, is one organisation which has been running workshops for teachers in real company workplaces aimed at keeping them up to date with technologies and management practice. The underlying hope is that teachers will see enough to make them question the stereotype of work in industry equalling a dull and dirty, if well-paid, job. They may then pass the message on to their pupils.
The organisation has been nothing if not diverse in its workshops. Its work will continue in the new organisation. Physics teachers can find themselves gaining hands-on experience of telecommunications such as the use of satellites, the Internet and fibre optics. Or they can attend a workshop with Motorola in East Kilbride, keeping abreast of the electronics industry.
Members of school management teams are offered the chance to take part in an industry-led course, "Total Quality Management", or to find out at first hand how Marks and Spencer has won its reputation for successfully cherry-picking the brightest and best candidates for jobs.
The nation's underwear store also offers a one-day course on a new curriculum resource for teachers of food technology. The venue is a department store. As well as acquiring and discussing the teaching materials, participants see theory put into action and speak to card-carrying operatives in the field.
Teachers of pre-school and primary pupils are the focus of a half-day Safeway store course offering materials for development in language, maths and environmental studies. Primary teachers are also included in biotechnology courses.
Clare Marsh, project officer with Understanding Scotland's Industry, whose own background is biology, is a firm believer in exposing children to this domain at a younger age than might be expected. "It is such an important industry of the future. It may seem surprising but presented in the right way there is no reason why children should not learn about it at this age."
Perhaps the biggest surprise for chemistry teachers attending a workshop at the Glaxo Wellcome pharmaceutical company works in Montrose last month was the absence of smell. It is the stuff of children's novels and television drama that chemical plants are nasty, noisy, malodorous affairs which wreck the environment. This plant looks no less attractive than the Pompidou arts centre in Paris or indeed many other modern pieces of architecture with an industrial appearance. As for pollution, the hi-tech incinerator is so efficient that the air emerging is believed to be cleaner than that going in. A further surprise for visiting teachers is the small number of workers on the shop floor and the complete absence of test tubes, as quality control and many other aspects of production are highly automated.
The course, which included authoritative talks from senior company managers and outside educationists such as the witty and waspish Dr Wilson Flood from Dumfries, was billed as of particular interest to teachers gearing up for the controversial new Scottish qualification of Higher Still. It seemed to deliver. One teachers commented: "I can see lots of opportunities where I can mention things I have seen and heard today. Among the nuggets of information imparted was the desire of the chemical industry to recruit not just graduates but school leavers interested in becoming modern apprentices receiving part-time further education training while being paid.
* The National Centre for Education for Work is at Jordanhill Campus, Strathclyde University, 74 Southbrae Drive, Glasgow G13 1PP (0141 950 3141).
* The Chemical Industry Education Centre ( 01904 432523), provides information and speakers who will visit schools.