We need business to help us raise standards

13th June 1997 at 01:00
The Government is determined to raise standards in education. But we cannot achieve this alone. Business partnerships have a vital role in preparing young people for the world of work. Industry needs a skilled and adaptable workforce and, equally, young people will gain enormously from real experience of the workplace.

More than 90 cent of secondary schools and nearly 60 per cent of primary schools now have links with business. Nearly 100 per cent of pupils in their last year of compulsory schooling undertake work experience placements and, since 1989, more than 250,000 teachers have had placements in business. Nevertheless, perhaps some of the impetus of education-business partnerships has been lost over the last decade. Many local education authorities developed partnerships in the 1980s and these need to be revitalised. The Government strongly supports the value of such partnerships, but we are not complacent. We must keep up the momentum and ensure that available resources are well focused.

Our aim is threefold. First, we intend to develop in all our young people the knowledge, skills and understanding required for adult and working life. Second, we intend to use education-business link activities as a vehicle for motivating disaffected young people. Third, we intend to improve the quality and coherence of link activities.

We indicated in our general election manifesto that we saw business as having a key role to play in helping us to deliver the main thrust of our education programme - raising young people's standards and achievements. There are many ways in which business can help, be it through curriculum development projects; mentoring and work experience, assignments arising from vocational qualifications such as GNVQs, teacher-business placements or by sponsoring technology and other specialist colleges.

I believe that disadvantaged and disaffected young people can benefit greatly from participating in compacts and other initiatives which reinforce classroom learning.

It is too early to spell out our policy in detail. But, we have already identified activities which have a valuable role to play in raising standards for all young people, and are of particular help in motivating those pupils who have become disaffected and disengaged.

We will be following this through in our proposed Education Action Zones. For example:

- Mentoring: mentoring initiatives can help to develop the confidence, abilities and aspirations of young people, many of whom may not have had a positive role model in their lives. We are encouraging such initiatives through our support of the National Mentoring Network.

- Work experience: this has a vital role to play in preparing our young people for adult and working life. To ensure that work experience is co-ordinated effectively and its quality improved, we will be providing #163;10m in 199798. A common thread of all work experience is that it can contribute to providing the key skills by which employers set so much store. We will be exploring how we can increase opportunities, particularly those who have been disaffected from the education system.

- Study support: this has much to offer in enabling young people to achieve more. We are particularly excited about a new project to establish study support centres in partnership with four Premier League football clubs, businesses and the associated local authorities. These centres will provide a stimulating environment after school, at weekends or in the holidays, where young people will receive a range of support, including help with literacy and numeracy skills.

Teachers benefit greatly from business placements, enabling them to bring the real world of work to the curriculum, and to offer enhanced careers' education and guidance. Equally, business people taking part in reciprocal placements can help pupils - particularly in deprived urban areas - to raise their sights and expectations.

Business can play a pivotal role by helping schools to see the scope and application of information technology in the workplace at first hand. Already there are a variety of IT initiatives being developed by companies in conjunction with schools, for example, in computer-aided design and manufacturing. We will want to encourage more such partnerships.

I have mentioned two of our aims for education-business links - better preparing all young people for working life and motivating those young people who have become disaffected. I also want to look at quality issues.Recent studies have pointed to a lack of coherence in education-business link activities, too much duplication and a lack of clear objectives. To overcome this, while we must continue to increase the quality of education businesses activities, we must concentrate more on improving the quality, bringing more coherence to the whole picture with improved monitoring and evaluation of link activities.

Business in the Community, the Confederation of British Industry and the Education Business Partnership Network all have a role in helping us achieve this aim.

It is essential that government, business and education work together to ensure that young people are better motivated and therefore more employable. It is essential, too, that we work together to change the negative and, in some cases, ignorant attitudes which many young people have towards industry. They must see the relevance to adult and working life of what they learn at school and the qualifications they acquire.

If we are to increase our competitive edge in the world's markets and our country is to prosper in the next century, we need a skilled and adaptable workforce. If government, business and education work together, I am confident we will achieve this goal.

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