A scheme to ensure all education business partnerships come up to scratch is just the ticket, writes Simon Midgley
Rigorous quality assurance checks are about to transform one of the key links between business and education.
Following industry leaders' concern over the variability of the United Kingdom's 150 education business partnerships, a national system of accreditation is set to ensure local partnerships reach guaranteed standards of performance.
Last year the national network ran a pilot scheme involving 10 partnerships. Nine were eventually accredited - Bedfordshire, Bexley, Devon, Greater Nottingham, Mid Glamorgan, Newnham, North Yorkshire, Rochdale and Sandwell. After some fine-tuning, the programme will be rolled out to a further 60 EBPs this year. Within three years all EBPs should have the chance to put themselves forward for accreditation. John Botten, manager of the Warwickshire Education Business Partnership and chairman of the National EBP network's quality assurance group, says: "Encouraging common standards has to be good for everybody. It gives those who are working with EBPs a reasonable guarantee that the organisation will deliver."
Education business partnerships work with schools, colleges and universities to prepare young people for adult and working life. They endeavour to help young people acquire the skills and attitudes they need to succeed in the world of work.
Mr Botten says young people need some practical knowledge of local and global economics, local employment prospects and business and environmental issues as well as an understanding of the nature of entrepreneurship.
EBPs, which average five to 10 members of staff, arrange 60 per cent of the UK's work experience placements. They also arrange teacher placements in industry, lay on business challenge simulations in schools, offer widespread pupil mentoring and provide reading, numeracy and GNVQ support.
For the pilot programme, a panel of three, including an external evaluator from an exam board, visited the EBPs and listened to local business people. The panel asked about business plans organisation, responsiveness to local and national agendas, client satisfaction and effectiveness.
Mr Botten says: "We are anxious to show the Department for Education and Employment that EBPs are working successfully and that indirect investment through routes such as the work experience programme should continue."
Mike McCann, chairman of the EBP national network and manager of Merseyside EBP, says schools, colleges and employers must be guaranteed minimum standards.
Tony Allen, national education manager for Whitbread plc, who sits on the quality assurance group, says EBPs' responsibilities and achievements have always varied, with quality often depending on levels of funding and other support.
So will the new programme help raise standards and diminish inconsistencies? Mr Allen believes it will. "EBPs will have to look at what they do and ask themselves how they can improve," he says.