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Partnership agencies 'wasting money'

Banker advising PM raps some business links as 'frankly not very good'

TAXPAYERS' MONEY is being wasted on organisations too weak to arrange lasting partnerships between schools and business, one of the Prime Minister's new education advisors has told The TES.

Every year, pound;25 million of public funding goes to local agencies to bring the two sides together. But while some of the agencies are excellent, others are "frankly not very good", said Bob Wigley, one of five business moguls appointed to the new National Council for Educational Excellence, which Gordon Brown will use to ensure business plays a bigger role in education.

"There is probably quite a lot of taxpayers' money being spent on this, not very efficiently," said the European chairman of global investment bankers Merrill Lynch. "There is room for improvement. At the moment it is very patchy."

Mr Wigley, 46, the father of three school-age boys, also chairs Business in the Community's education team. He will sit on the new national council with Damon Buffini, head of the private equity firm Permira; Sir Terry Leahy, Tesco's chief executive; Sir John Rose, the chief executive of Rolls-Royce, and Richard Lambert, director of the Confederation of British Industry.

Mr Wigley, who has said that as a teenager he found a school trip to an insurance company "truly inspirational", believes pupils, schools and businesses will benefit from closer relationships. He leads by example, sending his staff to schools in Tower Hamlets, east London, to teach pupils in one of the country's most deprived areas about business.

Across England, there are 103 local education business partnerships that organise pairings of private firms with schools. But Mr Wigley is concerned they do not always help schools get everything they can from the relationship.

"Some partnerships are good but others are weaker," he said. "These organisations are given Government money and they are not accredited in any way." He says the new council will look at introducing some kind of approval system to raise standards in partnerships.

However, Declan Swan, chief executive of the National Education Business Partnership Network, said there was already an accreditation system endorsed by PricewaterhouseCooper. It checked the partnerships were linked to enough businesses, were providing enough support to schools and met the needs of the local labour market.

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