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Together we reap greater rewards;Basic skills;Competitions

Next month Business in the Community will be awarding Marks of Excellence - our version of Kitemarks - to show our endorsement of companies that have made an impact in education, companies that have entered our Programme Impact Awards, under the Power in Partnership category and the Aim High category - an award that has been running for five years. In that time we have witnessed a 70 per cent increase in the numbers of firms involved in school-business partnerships.

This increased activity makes the need for a more defined role for business more urgent. Too much work between business and education lacks measured outcomes. Companies can be involved in activities which, though well-meaning, are not adding significant value. Equally, business should not be commiting time and resources to make up for deficiencies in the education system that should be properly resolved internally.

Business involvement must focus on raising achievement and, crucially, on improving employment prospects and enterprise. The results are their own reward: a more competitive community with a higher knowledge and skills base that will provide the environment for business growth and investment.

There is still along way to go. Recently the Office for Standards in Education found that only one quarter of secondary schools provide a well co-ordinated and coherent programme of work-related learning. If the potential is to be realised, then there must be a clearer link to the school development planning process so that business involvement is linked directly to school priorities.

We also need more research to identify which forms of business investment give most return in terms of improved level of achievement. A lot of energy and resources are expended for poor results. The focus should be on identifying those areas where business can have most impact and where business skills and time are best used.

The nature and quality of local brokerage, linking schools and business, will be critical to the delivery of this more strategic approach to business involvement. Far too little effort is put into mobilising more businesses to become involved. Education business partnerships need more secure core funding to enable them to engage the business community. However, the quality issue must be driven by the customers. Schools and business must be in a position to drive the development of quality, with schools having the resources to purchase the services required to meet needs.

But education business partnerships should not operate in isolation. Communities need broader brokerage services that provide a high- profile, accessible, quality mechanism for meeting a range of needs. We could save on infrastructure resources, reduce the confusion of multiple approaches to business from different sectors of the community and provide a more holistic approach to community needs. Whatever local structure operates, a closer fit between local, regional and national delivery partners is vital.

If we learn from innovative business involvement in education action zones and if we maximise the effectiveness of similar involvement in schools, then we stand a much better chance of ensuring that all pupils can aim high.

Peter Davis The writer is managing director of Business in the Community

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