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The state must stay in the driving seat

Industry is digging deeper than ever into its pocket to help fund state education, while the insatiable fledgling New Labour has its beak open for yet more. Ministers rightly expect firms to commit part of their profits to initiatives that secure a skilled, literate and numerate workforce.

As Bryan Sanderson, chairman of the Learning and Skills Council, shows (below), investment in training yields higher profits and builds a more efficient and contented workforce. But how far should industry and commerce be expected to take over the reins at school level?

Whoever governs the country after next week must beware of killing the goose. There has been an unprecedented range of initiatives in the past four years, from education action zones to specialist schools and colleges and the city academies. Now, with the creation of the LSC, the organisations set up to foster links between business and education are in for an overhaul.

At the heart of all this activity has been a louder call for cash from the private purse. Will Hutton, chief executive of the Industrial Society, asks how successful the education business partnership arrangements have been so far; on page 27, he calls for a root-and-branch reform with coherent policies to direct business support to what suits business best - school leadershi initiatives aimed at raising standards.

The easiest way to alienate business is to squander the resources it provides for schools and colleges. Where cash and other support are used well, benefits are huge. The studies of rural industry education links and the burgeoning school leadership programmes explored in this publication provide impressive illustrations of this.

Business must also lend support in the vast arena of key skills initiatives. For 125 years, employers have raged against declining standards of literacy and numeracy. Computing and general communication skills have joined the litany of complaints. On no other issue are views so polarised. Unwanted by students, criticised by teachers, some areas of industry are addressing the problem of key skills to great effect via Modern Apprenticeships (see page 18).

Previous editions of our Business Links special reports focused on issues such as the effectiveness of the action zones. In this issue, the role of business in supporting the post-16 education agenda is analysed in detail.

One very clear message emerges: effective use of public and private resources to the mutual benefit of industry and education is essential. Yet however much business is willing to invest, it does not want to take over and run the public realm.

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