... but writing a letter can help to buck the trend

29th June 2001 at 01:00
Business links fail to make much impact

The greenhouse comes from the folk who supply the Chelsea Flower Show. The sundial is sponsored by BP. Even the computer room blinds were given by a local firm.

Five-year-olds at Hawes Down infant school in West Wickham, Kent, which could be a model for business involvement in education, are already adept fundraisers. Name a project, and headteacher Sally Cartwright's first response is: "Who can we get to help with this?" Hawes Down's pupils are skilful letter writers. They write to Mrs Cartwright to ask for new blinds. They write to ecologists for advice on the school pond. And they post the letters at their own school post office where they weigh them and sell stamps.

It's not just about cash - although that helps. Hawes Down has brought in sound engineers, dress designers and Ghanaian drummers to bring the curriculum alive. Mrs Cartwright says she wants to show children there is a world outside the - admittedly beautiful - school gates (designed by pupils, made by Chatham Historic Dockyard Forge, paid for by various).

"It brings the outside world in," she says. "Often an enthusiasm that someone shows will trigger something in the children.

"These things aren't just a jolly, there's always a curriculum link to it. But it gives their work a purpose. When they're writing letters, they're writing for a reason."

Most of the schemes are one-offs, although Hawes Down is a designated BP link school. The firm funds occasional projects but more often sends in specialists such as the sound man with his wave machine to enliven lessons.

The head had a brief link with a mentor under the Leadership Programme for Serving Heads, and some staff have been on secondments to business - the post office followed one teacher's stint with the Royal Mail. But most things link either to lessons or the school fabric.

Mrs Cartwright doesn't spend much time thinking about whether she's creating an enterprise culture, but perhaps it happens anyway. The gardening club - the jewel in Hawes Down's crown - grows and sells its own organic produce. As well as the greenhouse, it regularly taps Bamp;Q for advice and charms the local branch so much they walk away with bags of compost.

A BP logo flutters on the windsock in the playground weather station, but otherwise the school is hardly overrun by corporate images. Robinsons, the greenhouse company, didn't even want a plaque. So what's in it for business?

"They don't get much more than our thanks and maybe a couple of lines in the local paper," admits Mrs Cartwright. "But a lot of staff get a kick out of coming in and answering children's questions.

"There are people in business who aren't only out for profit."

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