Neil Merrick celebrates the 200,000th teacher being let loose in industry. An attempt to close a gaping chasm between industry and education produced the Teacher Placement Service (TPS) in 1989. Seven years and 200,000 teacher placements later, few doubt that there has been an improvement: most school and college classrooms are no longer shut off from the world of work.
But as the placement service prepares its case for government funding into the 21st century, it must demonstrate that it has done more than overcome the problems it set out to solve. One of its targets is to monitor more effectively what happens when teachers return to the classroom.
Bronwen Bunting, who spent a week with Boddingtons Brewery in Manchester, wrote a 20-page booklet which challenges A-level chemistry students to solve problems about the brewing process.
Ms Bunting who teaches at Holy Cross Sixth Form College, Bury, said the placement helped her to "bring industry to life" as well as making her more aware of the wider skills base students seeking a career in brewing would need.
Peter Skinner, the TPS's national project director, claims there is wider scope for teachers in general to develop materials and courses that are related to business. "Having achieved a fundamental shift in teachers' attitudes, we still have to change some classroom methodologies so students develop the skills and capabilities that business requires," he said.
To pay for teacher placements, education-business partnerships and training and enterprise councils receive Pounds 2 million every year from the single regeneration budget, the government fund for inner-city revival. Understanding British Industry, an agency of the Confedation of British Industry, acts as a central brokering service and gets a further Pounds 200,000 for the same purpose.
Mr Skinner believes the TPS is "world class" and viewed with envy from abroad, but he recognises the Government will need convincing before it agrees to continue funding the service beyond 1998.
Industry gives Pounds 20 million annually, mostly in the form of employee time. "Business will only participate if there is a brokerage service which guarantees the quality of people coming to them on placements."
Peter English, head of Green Park Special School, Wolverhampton, praised the training he received from the TPS prior to a placement at Rover in January. After 20 years as a head, he was seeking new motivation and was impressed by management techniques at the car company.
Following the placement, he has reviewed the awarding of responsibility points to teachers and copied Rover by placing written statements, such as "What have I done today to take children forward?" on walls around the school. "I was able to take stock and study where we could do better by taking a more visionary approach," said Mr English.
Placements provide managers from education and industry with a chance to exchange ideas. "Don't believe that industry has necessarily got it right or that education always has it wrong," warned Peter Skinner.
Other TPS targets include increasing placements among teachers in primary and further education and introducing more trainee teachers to education-business links. And there is still some way to go before all students leave school or college armed with up-to-date careers advice.
When Bob Grant spent one week at Delta Extruded Metals, a metal processors in the West Midlands, last July, he became the 200,000th teacher placement. In spite of being an engineer before entering teaching in 1982, he soon realised that his concept of industry had become dated.
At Delta, he discovered modern industrial techniques which he can pass on to students at Tividale Comprehensive School in Sandwell. "We have this romantic notion of what industry is about and the information we put forward is rather turgid. Teachers need constant updating on new processes and the type of training industry is looking for."