A radical approach to raising standards;Introduction

26th June 1998 at 01:00
Estelle Morris, the schools minister, (above) affirms the Government'szeal for encouraging more education-business links to boost achievement.

Business is playing a key role in the Government's campaign to raise standards, one we are hoping will develop and flourish. The Government passionately believes in the importance of effective links between business and education: they can learn from each other - the links can bring enormous benefits for schools and colleges and also for business.

We recognise the significant contribution made by education business partnerships to raising standards and preparing young people for the world of work and we are supporting the national network of partnerships to develop further high-quality links.

About nine out of ten secondary schools and six out of ten primaries now have links with business, many of which have been built up over a number of years. We want to make sure all schools have links with business that work to mutual benefit. The emphasis has to be on improving the quality of such links.

Education action zones are one of the central and most innovative links between business and education. With the announcement on Tuesday of the first zones, we are now on the threshold of an exciting phase of business involvement in education. The zones will play an important role in transforming schools and modernising education for the next century, offering radical approaches to tackling the problem of underachievement.

All the zones will have business partners. They will provide funding, business consultancy, technology, quality work experience and mentoring to offer successful role models to children. They will bring new skills and new approaches to education.

The composition of forums running the zones will be determined locally. The forums can include parents, school governors, headteachers, teachers, business people and the voluntary sector. The director of corporate affairs at Royal Dutch Shell will be chairing the forum running the zone in Lambeth. And the director of business services at Comcast will be taking the lead in the zone in Middlesborough.

Each zone will involve a small cluster of schools, including at least one secondary and its feeder primaries. Zones will each get around pound;1 million a year, including pound;250,000 in cash or kind from businesses.

The schools will be required to set tough targets to raise standards. They will be able to alter the national curriculum to concentrate on improving basic skills. It is vital that children who are struggling in English and mathematics are not left behind. This can lead to them giving up, behaving badly and getting trapped in a downward spiral of educational decline.

Action zone schools will, with agreement, be able to alter teachers' pay and conditions. Pay could be linked to performance and more flexible working. Some zone schools will employ advanced skills teachers who will be paid up to pound;40,000. This will ensure that talented staff stay in the teaching profession. Teachers will be expected to use novel methods, such as holding summer schools to help children catch up.

Local education authorities will have a role in supporting schools to raise standards. Schools should be able to run themselves to the greatest degree of independence that is possible.

Innovative approaches to be tried in the zones include greater and more imaginative use of information technology; greater use of breakfast clubs and after-school clubs, changing the length of the school day and altering the number of school terms.

The first 12 action zones will start operating in September; another 13 will follow in January. I hope more could follow, subject to the outcome of the comprehensive review of government spending now being conducted.

The opportunities offered by education have to be available to all pupils. The Government wants to promote a culture in which going to school is no longer seen as optional by some young people and in some families.

Involvement by business in deprived areas offers children valuable role models of success and an insight into the world of work. Youngsters cannot get enough of these positive influences.

The action zones are the latest in a series of initiatives involving business. We will shortly be announcing plans to widen work experience for 14 and 15-year-olds. These will help motivate youngsters who might otherwise been tempted to play truant. And last week I announced a scheme for master classes in specialist comprehensive schools. This will help gifted children reach their full potential. I announced that more of these specialist secondaries are being established. They are an important part of the school system which is being supported by businesses who provide sponsorship.

By 2002 I want one in seven schools to specialise. As an important part of their remit, the specialist schools will work closely with other schools in their area. They will offer help and advice for teachers and allow children at other schools to join some lessons.

Business in the Community is running a scheme where headteachers are paired with a business leader for a year. This allows the two partners to meet regularly and talk about management and share best practice.

Mentoring can motivate and support people of all ages and from all walks of life, improving their confidence and attainment. I recently announced a bursary scheme, to be administered by the National Mentoring Network, to stimulate new initiatives for pupils. More than l00 applications have been received ; the successful ones will be announced later this summer.

The Department of Education and Employment is conducting a consultation exercise to explore how to achieve a more integrated, strategic approach to school-business links. A wide range of players will be involved, providing an opportunity to increase awareness and commitment to link activity and to establish a consensus for action.

I have been delighted with the level of interest and enthusiasm in education shown by the business community. Each one of these schemes has a big part to play in raising standards. Much more involvement is possible and I look forward to fostering the growth of ever stronger links between education and business.

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