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Partnership pays

As many Education Business Partnerships celebrate their fifth anniversary, John Botten reflects how little we invest in them.

EDUCATORS AND administrators, to say nothing of Government, are apt to forget that it takes time to change things. For example, children starting their schooling at the age of four in 1998 will not complete their education until 2015 or thereabouts and will only just about have settled into employment by the year 2020. Therefore, changing the perceptions, attitudes and experiences of young people in such a way as to affect the employment market will take a considerable time. That is the task to which Education Business Partnerships are committed.

This year many EBPs have been celebrating their fifth anniversaries. Despite limited and uncertain funding, great strides have been made. The latest survey from the National EBP Network indicates that the partnerships are working with over 75 per cent of all schools, with over 80 per cent of all colleges and with over 200,000 companies. Over the past two years the influence of the network has been growing, bringing together England, Wales and Northern Ireland and working alongside the highly successful network in Scotland.

All this has been achieved on an investment of only Pounds 3.50 per pupil, yet the impact of partnership work has been significant. When EBPs were introduced in the early Nineties, they were perceived as a peripheral means of enriching the curriculum. Now, their message of the importance of properly preparing young people for adult and working life is recognised as one of the central purposes of education and as vital to the future economic prosperity of the country. This message has been successfully integrated into the Government's White Paper Excellence in Schools.

The national EBP Network has produced a new leaflet called 20-20 Vision, which sets out what is needed if all young people are to fulfil their part in society as citizens, consumers, employees and lifelong learners. The leaflet identifies two important areas for development. First, it is vital that, in addition to their academic qualifications, all young people are ready for work when they reach the employment market. Work-readiness is a combination of key skills, appropriate attitudes such as enthusiasm and punctuality, and developed personal qualities such as leadership and attention to detail. Allied to this there needs to be a level of economic and industrial understanding which enables all young people to understand the business community, to perform their roles as citizens and to develop into caring consumers.

We have also stressed the importance of partnership work in motivating the young. Once the connection between what is learned in the classroom and how it is applied elsewhere is made, there is clear evidence that performance improves. This is particularly the case for low achievers. Achievement is an important issue. While evidence shows that levels of achievement are rising, there is still a gap between the levels of achievement being recorded and the demands of business and the community.

We are also committed to the improvement of partnership work through quality assurance accreditations. In Scotland the EBPs have been working with inspectors and others to produce a document setting out performance indicators for schools for Education Business Collaboration. These will be used for self-evaluation and as the basis of HMI inspections. We would like to see similar arrangements in the rest of Britain.

In order to do all this, the partnerships need improved resourcing. But while over the past five years demand for EBP services has increased significantly, the resources have grown hardly at all. There cannot be a more important investment than preparing the young for working life. To ask whether we could afford more that Pounds 3.50 per student is to ask the wrong question; there is clear evidence that partnership pays.

* John Botten is chairman of the National Education Business Partnership Network

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