Warwick Mansell reports
Cuts are threatening projects in which thousands of business people take time off work to help primary pupils with reading and maths.
Over the past 10 years the highly-regarded Reading Partners and Number Partners schemes have helped tens of thousands of pupils. Now they are to be scaled back as ministers focus on involving businesses in secondaries.
The news is being greeted with dismay by the charities which run the projects and the companies, many of whom prefer to work in primaries and argue that they are more likely to make an impact with younger children.
This year 8,500 employees from around 400 businesses are visiting primaries under the Reading Partners scheme to help pupils, either on a one-to-one basis or in small groups.
Meanwhile, 1,300 volunteers from 120 companies work with pupils under the Number Partners project, in which they play maths games with the youngsters.
Lord George, the former Bank of England governor, and Robert Thomson, editor of The Times, have been volunteers. Corporate backers range from giants such as HSBC, Unilever and News International, publisher of The TES, to councils and small businesses.
The projects have largely been run by local Education Business Partnerships, a network of 126 organisations which with schools provide work experience and other business-related schemes.
Learning and Skills Councils have funded partnerships which provide a member of staff or broker to recruit volunteers from companies, arrange which school they are sent to and carry out police and other bureaucratic checks.
From this September this partnership work will no longer be funded, as the LSCs, which have a national budget of pound;9 billion, concentrate on companies' work with 14 to 19-year-olds.
In London, the situation has been exacerbated by the demise this year of London Accord, which since 1998 has provided more than pound;400,000 a year to support business people working with five to 14-year-olds across the capital.
In Devon, Cornwall and Somerset, where more than 200 volunteers have been working with schools, central support is being withdrawn after pound;18,000 of LSC funding was cut.
Three volunteers from Milk Link, a dairy company, have been providing an hour's reading support for 18 pupils at Courtlands special school in Plymouth for the past year.
Jon Dunkerley, headteacher, said he was dismayed by the prospect of losing the support. He was determined it would continue, but he would have to organise the volunteers himself, he said.
He said: "Cutting the funding is a great shame, and very short-sighted."
Nigel Griffen (see box right), a Milk Link adviser and children's author who has been volunteering at Courtlands for the past year, said: "It's amazing that more people don't do this work. It would be a terrible thing if something like this was chipped away."
Bob Wigley, chair of education leadership at Business in the Community, which represents 800 firms, said: "Once the brokers have gone, we have lost all hope of engaging generations of volunteers to support our youngest pupils."
A Department for Education and Skills spokeswoman said: "We support the LSC. However, it is up to the LSC to make judgements on how they allocate their resources."
The LSC said that its support for education-business link organisations was being cut this year but that there were other significant potential sources of income for the partnerships.
learning to read, Primary Forum 24