Schools join the global market

Education is to become the latest weapon in the battle to lure overseas investors to set up business, if the Scottish Office has anything to do with it.

Despite the inauspicious investment climate, the Inspectorate held aspecial seminar in its Edinburgh headquarters last week in association with South Lanarkshire Council, which has significant concentrations of overseas employers in East Kilbride and Hamilton.

The focus was on the part schools should play in helping the children of overseas staff continue their education during what are often short stays in Scotland.

Douglas Osler, the senior chief inspector, invited education authorities to "continue to turn their minds" to what he believed would become an increasingly important feature of their work and one with spin-offs for other children.

South Lanarkshire has gone a step further and appointed a special member of staff, Hiroko Mackenzie, to its economic development department to help overseas families settle in. The council's schools have 500 bilingual children speaking 37 languages.

Maggi Allan, South Lanarkshire's director of education, told the seminar the challenge was to educate children such as those of the Taiwanese parent she had met recently who was leaving Scotland for Venezuela but aimed eventually to return to Taiwan. South Lanarkshire had to try to ensure that pupils are educated in a way that prepares them to acclimatise to two or three different cultures without losing their own.

David Robson, who heads the "after-care" team of Locate in Scotland, the Government's inward investment arm, said the quality of the education system was vital in selling Scotland to overseas companies. Investors are primarily attracted because Scotland provides them with access to the rest of Europe, but a clinching factor is often "the availability of a well-educated, highly productive and flexible workforce".

One of the first things the First Direct telephone banking organisation did after its announcement that it was setting up in Hamilton with the promise of 3,000 initial jobs, was to contact South Lanarkshire's education department.

Locate in Scotland says there are 600 overseas-owned "facilities" from 29 countries in Scotland, including 41 from Japan. This made it imperative that Scottish education had policies "which maximise the attainment of pupils", Mr Osler said pointedly.

There was a call, however, for better communication between economic development and education agencies when investment decisions are being finalised.

David Watson, manager of the languages support unit in Fife's education department, said earlier notification would have allowed the council to be better prepared in meeting the needs of prospective Korean staff of the Hyundai plant at Dunfermline as well as the various nationalities from its subcontracting companies (an operation now mothballed by the effect on Korea of the Asian economic turmoil).

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