Ian Nash finds evidence of some positive and encouraging results in an evaluation of the Aim High scheme in Northumberland.
Clear evidence that education-business links can improve GCSE performance has emerged from a detailed study of the programmes in more than 30 Northumberland middle and high schools.
The rise in numbers of pupils gaining five GCSEs grade A-C was considerably higher in those schools which took part in the popular Aim High award scheme than in those which did not.
Schools used the initiative, launched by Business in the Community and sponsored for the past two years by BT, to target the groups likely to under-achieve. It aimed to raise aspirations and improve standards of literacy.
A comprehensive database of individual performance was compiled, charting performance not just in the academic field but in work experience, industry-backed mentor schemes and other initiatives.
Teachers, who themselves had work placements, reported improved self-confidence and greater awareness of career choices. Norman Tomlin, the education business co-ordinator, said analysis of the data helped schools introduce more effective attainment targets and performance indicators.
By concentrating efforts around the Aim High scheme, the different groups involved in school and college industry links - the training and enterprise council, EBP and Northumberland National Targets Taskforce - were drawn together. In many other areas, this separation was identified by government research (analysed on page 9). as a weakness. The most startling result is the GCSE improvement rates (see table right).
Mr Tomlin urged caution in interpreting the results but was optimistic: "While it is obviously not possible to claim this as being solely due to the effects of Aim High, it is one of the contributing factors."