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Two heads are better than one;Headteachers;Viewpoint;Opinion

The 4,000 people who work for KPMG in London contribute enthusiastically to the community. Five years ago we decided to find out what our people were doing, what they would like to do and how they wanted the firm to help and support them.

KPMG is a large organisation, but its only resource is its people. We are a major force in British business, one of the UK's and the world's largest accounting and advisory firms. One of our business objectives is to be a leader of our own profession and in the business community. Leadership brings obligations.

So we set up KPMG's Community Broking Service, a three-person in-house department, to provide strategy, ideas, focus and co-ordination for our community support. The service harnesses our most valuable resource, the time of skilled people, to help those who need our help.

Individuals make the best contribution when their work interests them and is fun. We would never divert someone from his or her interest somewhere else, but we set internal priorities to guide people. We found it easy to conclude, supported by an extensive staff survey, that education, the great priority for the nation, is the area where KPMG should most powerfully focus its support.

My own interest was stimulated by a Business In The Community "Seeing is Believing" visit to two inner-London schools. I asked Business In The Community how KPMG could contribute to education. The answer was immediate headteacher mentoring.

Business In The Community's aim is to provide for every headteacher a business person who is a mentor, adviser and friend. The mentor is not a school governor, certainly not a boss, not a paid consultant, but simply somebody experienced in business at a senior level who listens and talks to the headteacher on even terms and shares experiences and ideas. They help each other raise their eyes from the hurly-burly of day-to-day school and business life to the horizon and the future.

Business In The Community had asked a number of national companies to pilot headteacher mentoring, but had found no takers, partly because of a concern about liability for bad advice.

KPMG has probably thought more about liability for advice than most organisations. It is not an unfamiliar issue, nor one we are frightened of. Our business is giving advice. Mentors do not advise and there is no fee.

KPMG has many experienced senior business people from many disciplines: accountants, management consultants, lawyers, actuaries, corporate financiers, turn-around and insolvency specialists and tax specialists. What they all have in common is that they are experienced in business at a senior level. They are bright and motivated to succeed, as are headteachers.

So we started a pilot scheme. We started small, about a dozen senior KPMG people (myself included) working with headteachers in the boroughs nearest to our City office, a group we could easily administer. KPMG provided training and background on education for our mentors and organised termly meetings where all the headteachers and mentors could discuss the issues of the day.

The pilot succeeded. All the pairings worked; three years later, nearly all continue as mentor pairs. In year two, the scheme extended to KPMG across the UK and to other national companies, with BITC-based administration.

Autumn 1998 is the beginning of year four. We expect 500 headteachers with 500 business mentors from more than 100 companies (such as Midland Bank, Halifax, Shell International, Marks and Spencer and National Power). One hundred of the mentors are from KPMG, about 50 from our London office. Business In The Community's ambition is 2,000 mentors by the year 2000, and we will be delighted to help them get there.

KPMG has gained much from headteacher mentoring. First, our individual mentors have learned much and have enjoyed themselves. My day-to-day working life is spent in the business world leading my own large business and advising directors of my client companies, organisations much larger than my own.

My headteacher runs a business, a state primary school, but a business none the less; she is a chief executive. She faces the issues that I face. I certainly learn from her and I hope she learns from me. But more than this, KPMG gains from the accumulative benefits of so many of us working with so many headteachers, in a world which is crucial to the future of the nation but is so different from our own business world. Mentoring helps the mentor just as much as it helps the headteacher, perhaps more.

And I enjoy it.

* Michael Fowle is chairman of KPMG's South amp; Scotland division.

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