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Partnership not tub-thumping

Schools and colleges are undergoing a revolution in their relations with industry and commerce. More than 4,500 headteachers have teamed up with business leaders to improve communications and leadership skills. The benefits are mutual, as industry finds much to learn from education. New research shows that British firms are more likely than their European counterparts to have company policies that promote staff involvement in community education. A recent study by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development shows the UK leaping up international tables for the quality of its apprenticeships and training for work.

Big initiatives to improve entrepreneurial skills and financial literacy among pupils are being bankrolled with pound;50 million of Treasury cash. Indeed, as Julia Cleverdon, director of Business in the Community (BITC), points out in these pages, for the first time in 20 years the Government has said it welcomes "support in kind" from business, rather than berating its leaders and demanding more cash. (Remember the travesty of fund-raising efforts for city technology colleges in the 1980s?) 1981 was the nadir in relations between schools and the workplace. the climb out of the pit has been slow, but we are getting there. 1982 marked the birth of a small group of leaders under the BITC banner. On its twentieth anniversary, there are things to shout about, but still a steep slope ahead.

The study of London schools by the consultants McKinsey (see page 7) illustrates this. There has to be concern that secondary heads feel that the efforts of business are reaching just one in five pupils. But look deeper and you find powerful indicators of best practice, both in influencing change and helping shape government policy.

Look also at the success of the Prince's Trust this week in wresting at least pound;50m from government for proven initiatives to help the destitute and disaffected back on the learning ladder - an initiative in which the Prince of Wales and Tony Blair personally intervened.

The Government last year introduced sweeping reforms, creating new education business links organisations to promote partnerships with every school and college. The central question remains: will they be funded to fit the purpose or will they comprise yet another layer of costly bureaucracy?

All the above successes lead to one conclusion: red tape and tub-thumping are not the answers; action and partnership are.

Ian Nasheditor, Business Links

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