Banking on the 'can do' kids

24th March 2000 at 00:00
Business leaders are at last giving their backing to schools, reports Neil Munro

A MAJOR announcement is expected in the near future that

pound;5 million is to be ploughed into expanding enterprise education in primary schools.

The investment will be a mixture of public and private finance, and will be used largely to appoint co-ordinators to work with schools in the 24 areas of Scotland where education-business partnerships or their equivalent have been established.

The move was largely instigated by Scotland's captains of industry and commerce and for the first time reflects serious interest in promoting education for work at senior company levels. A group of senior executives, who met in Gleneagles last year under the banner of Scotland International, were said to have been highly impressed by a presentation from young people on their school enterprise projects.

Ian Russell, deputy chief executive of Scottish Power, who attended the Gleneagles event, described the pupils as "a knock-out". Mr Russell said: "They just need the opportunities to show what they are capable of, so Scottish Power is hugely supportive of the Government's education for work agenda."

The company has put 300 fifth-year pupils from central Scotland through its school-to-work programme, which is intended to give them a more realistic appreciation of what to expect when they start work - from competence in handling IT to making themselves presentable. "The talent and skills are there," Mr Russell said. "They just need to be brought out."

Scottish Power will second a member of staff full-time to work with the National Centre: Education for Work and Enterprise at Jordanhill, which is charged with co-ordinating the Government's agenda. The creation of the post is intended to help develop the contribution of the new primary school co-ordinators.

The involvement of such influential figures will inevitably be met with a warm endorsement from ministers. Henry McLeish, Enterprise and Lifelong Learning Minister, urged leading figures in the business world once again last week to become more closely involved with schools.

This encouragement was echoed by Douglas Osler, the senior chief inspector of schools, who first underlined the importance of education for work as a key purpose of schooling in a majo speech in 1996.

Mr Osler said this week: "Business does not have a monopoly of wisdom about management and schools do not have a monopoly of wisdom about learning."

Mr McLeish and Mr Osler signalled their determination as they signed a charter last week at a conference organised by the National Centre. The charter, which will also be signed by Sam Galbraith, Children and Education Minister, is intended as a symbolic commitment by the signatories to promote "positive action".

These moves are also an attempt to bring greater coherence to an area where work experience and education-industry liaison have often been dismissed as no more than tokenistic additions to the "real work" of schools. Enterprise initiatives are seen in official circles as serving the needs of education and business - bedding into the curriculum the core skills required by schools, from literacy to various personal attributes, which in turn will make young people more creative and employable.

Mr McLeish denied that developing a greater awareness of "an entrepreneurial culture" meant undermining education. "It's about developing something in all of us that is vital for the future," he said. A "can do" attitude was essential for individuals and for the country's prosperity. This should also involve encouraging young people to set up their own businesses after they leave school, "recognising that everyone has real potential which can be realised in different ways".

He made it clear that education for work should be seen as an inclusive policy which could be of benefit to the most able students as well as to those who may be turned off by schools.

Mr Osler said a recent HMI report showed "encouraging evidence of initiative and ingenuity" in schools. "There are encouraging messages about the response of children and young people, for whom bright ideas, adaptability and enterprise are entirely natural. For so long schools worked against children's natural talent for bright ideas, adaptability and enterprise."

The National Centre at Jordanhill has issued a national draft strategy with an "agenda for action". This stresses the importance of ensuring that a policy of making pupils more employable and developing their enterprise skills is closely linked to the drive to raise attainment. Gerry McCann

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