The sky's the limit for the winners of this year's Aim High awards, which once again set out to reward high-flying partnerships between schools and companies, reports Harvey McGavin
When it comes to school-industry collaborations, the Aim High awards celebrate the best in the business. Last year's winners, including such diverse operations as confectionery giant Cadbury's and a small family-run hotel, pick up their prizes at a presentation ceremony in London today. So the search starts now for the company with the most enterprising approach to school-industry links in 1998.
Dubbed a "kitemark of excellence" by schools minister Stephen Byers, the awards attracted more than 300 entries last year. But results are more important than resources, and every scheme has to show positive effects in the classroom. The judges, led by Qualifications and Curriculum Authority chief executive Nick Tate, will also seek evidence of employee involvement and partnership development.
Certificates and trophies go to winning companies in three main categories - curriculum support, teacher and management development and extra-curricular support.
Five special awards are reserved for companies employing fewer than 50 people, and for those that tackle under-achievement, improve primary literacy and numeracy, support students with special needs, and demonstrate a consortium approach.
On top of the obvious benefits of involvement, those schools associated with the successful companies receive up to pound;1,000.
The awards, sponsored by BT, are organised by Business in the Community (BITC), and supported by the education business partnerships of England, Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland, The Department for Education and Employment and The TES.
BT managing director Bill Cockburn highlights the value of such collaboration. He says: "The future of every business depends on the nation's skills base. BT is backing the awards to help tackle under-achievement, unlock the potential of every student and increase our international competitiveness."
Last year's competition showed the many ways in which companies can help schools.
National winners in 1997 were:
Category: Curriculum support
Entry: Design and technology skills
Double technology classes at Turves Green girls' school in Birmingham became a more appetising prospect for Year 9 pupils when they started a seven-week project with Cadbury's.
Pupils were divided into "mini companies", and each given a task related to production and promotion of a new chocolate bar.
Cadbury's staff guided pupils through the processes involved. Of the 136 pupils involved, 112 also gained the CREST (Creativity in Science and Technology) Bronze Award. Achievement levels at key stage 3 improved, and pupils' mean achievement also went up.
Category: Teacher and management development
Company: Gardner Merchant
Entry: Hospitality and catering training
Students from 17 schools in Wigan and Trafford have been busy behind the scenes in staff canteens, gaining NVQ credits to go with their main GCSE courses.
Kitchens at North West Water, HJ Heinz and several colleges in the North-west have played host to the Able to Learn scheme.
Teaching staff went on work placements, were trained to manage the NVQs and had the chance to gain a level 4 qualification themselves.
Around 300 key stage 4 pupils, many of them with special needs, have taken part in the 15-month day-release programme, which is now in its third year.
Category: Extra-curricular support
Company: East Anglian Daily Times
Entry: Improving reading skills
Pupils in East Anglia hit the headlines when a partnership with their local newspaper saw a dramatic leap in reading ages.
In the Reading Together project, supported by the Suffolk Education Business Partnership and Newspapers in Education, children from 35 schools read three editions of the paper a week and completed workbooks with their parents or in class.
After the six-week intensive programme, four out of ten pupils at Leiston Middle School, Suffolk, increased their reading ages. At Causton Junior school, Felixstowe, half the pupils improved their reading skills.
Category: Special educational needs
Winning company: Thornton's
Entry: The Delves School Greenhouse Project
A run-down greenhouse in the grounds of this special school in Derby got a new lease of life when pupils made its renovation a feature of their City and Guilds vocational education course.
The brick and timber structure was soon serving as a nursery for "butterfly-friendly" plants that were transplanted to the grounds of the company's factory half a mile away.
The project had a wide variety of curriculum applications, from basic maths to natural science.
Category: Tackling under achievement
Company: Just Rentals
Entry: Revision and homework clubs
A TV rental company channelled its energies into helping 850 students from 42 secondary schools improve their GCSE grades by organising a revision week at the University of Glamorgan. It also gave grants to set up homework clubs.
Half the pupils, expected to gain borderline passes before the scheme started, went on to achieve grades A to C in English, maths and science. At Porth County Comprehensive, Mid-Glamorgan, the proportion of pupils passing five or more GCSEs at A to C increased from 22 to 31 per cent.
Category: Small company
Company: Drumnadrochit Hotel, Inverness-shire
Entry: Hotel for a day
Children from Glen Urquhart High School became waiters, chefs and reception staff for the day when they ran the hotel near Loch Ness. They served invited guests and fellow pupils at a sit-down meal. They were given the chance to work towards a Welcome Host hospitality award - usually available only to people already working in the industry, which is one of the region's major employers.
Category: Primary support for basic skills
Company: Marriott Forest of Arden Hotel
Entry: Maths challenge
Year 5 children from Greenholm primary school in Birmingham discovered the applications of maths in a hotel setting.
Pupils completed five maths-based challenges to show the importance of numeracy to the smooth running of the kitchen, restaurant, golf course, housekeeping and conference facilities. They then planned maths-based activities for Year 2 children, and both year groups organised a conference-style parents day at the hotel to show off their new-found knowledge.
"It was maths with a purpose," says Greenholm headteacher Gill Turner.
Companies can enter the competition themselves or be nominated by a school, college or education business partnership. Entries and details from BITC, 44 Baker Street, London W1M 1DH. Tel: 0171 224 1600