A record 370 projects were entered for this year's Aim High awards, the Business in the Community scheme to get companies working with schools to raise student performance towards the national targets for education and training.
The judges say it was an extremely strong field, making assessment very difficult. Two of the awards this year have joint winners, reflecting the high standard of entries. There are, therefore, 10 winning entries covering the categories:
* support for the national or Scottish curriculum and keycore skills * teacher and management development * extra-curricular and out-of-school support * tackling underachievement * primary support for raising basic skills * special educational needs * best entry from a small company lbest entry demonstrating a consortium approach.
Business in the Community's priority for making awards is support for the national curriculum, followed closely by teacher and management development and extra-curricular activities. All entries have had to demonstrate these key ingredients.
Great importance is also given to progress towards national education targets at primary level. The concern is that if children leave primary school having fallen behind in English and mathematics, then they never catch up and their entire education and life chances suffer.
The judges were David Hart, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, Rob Smith, director in charge of business links at the Department for Education and Employment, Ian Pearce, director of education at Business in the Community, and Richard Hamer, head of education liaison at BT, who sponsored the Aim High awards for the third year running.
In spite of the sums that blue-chip companies are able to pump into education (BT spends pound;15 million, including pound;250,000 on schools projects), the majority of Aim High award winners are not big spenders. What counts most is involvement. Companies which support schools generally do so through individual staff donating their time and expertise and by making resources available.
It is not so much financial support as help in kind, which is recognised by the awards for management development, supporting the curriculum and special educational needs.
Small businesses are increasingly coming forward to support schools. With the British economy geared to small but growing enterprises, this involvement is very significant and small companies can make an enormous impact at a local level, as two of the national winners, Mike Stacey in Somerset and the Galloway News (see right), clearly show.
Monitoring and evaluation are becoming an ever more important part of the awards by substantiating claims that business links produce results and raise standards.
The accumulated experience of companies running mentoring schemes and the spread of good practice has improved the training of school mentors and the quality of the mentoring. Comparisons between similar cohorts of pupils show marked improvement for groups that have been mentored. And improvements are important for school morale and to parents as well as the children themselves.