Unveiled: the big picture

If you were spending a lot of money in the community, you would want to know what results your investment was having. Companies are spending pound;200 million a year on providing educational resources for schools. Now Business in the Community is compiling a database to give its members the bigger picture of just how their resources fit within the national curriculum and across the phases. Director of education John May supports the project passionately.

May believes it will help avoid duplication of effort and resources, bring a much-needed focus to the area and help companies harness the available expertise. In other words, there will be no more re-inventing wheels.

"What our members want to know is what's the best way they can get involved in an educational programme and which areas of the curriculum need their support, as well as whether there are any other companies doing the same thing."

The database will not be the first time anyone has attempted to list and quantify educational resources. Business publisher Resources Plus and the University of Warwick's Centre for Education and Industry (CEI) have both published directories, the last as recently as 1998.

But change in education has been moving at such a pace that the lists omit some of the important new resources brought out during the past two years to support the national literacy and numeracy strategies.

May cites the active co-operation that now takes place between some of the major business sponsors of education. There are unofficial networks of highly committed and very experienced educationalists working within companies, and May wants to tap into their expertise and help them share best practice. The datbase will help.

He says: "We're tapping into and creating an emerging network of expertise. Tony Allen at Whitbread and Martin Tims of Esso, for example, are at the cutting edge of educational resources. But the difficulty for them is networking. We want to help them and others like them spread best practice."

The networking has resulted in some spectacular successes. Whitbread and Esso, for example, came together to fund Michael Rosen's Growing With Trees poetry anthology.

The Yorkshire Post and Yorkshire Television have banded together to produce a literacy scheme called Right to Read. May says: "They have brought in a lot of smaller companies and are harnessing reading volunteers for schools. It's about committing people's time and talent."

On the basis that the whole is worth considerably more than the sum of its parts, well-planned corporate community investment can leverage a large amount of extra resources. May has noted that the change in education has meant companies are now focusing less on producing glossy teaching materials with pupil workbooks and teacher packs, and more on frameworks for learning - initiatives like mentoring, teacher placements and pupil visits.

BITC's database will reflect this diversity. According to May, simplicity will be the guiding principle. He explains that the information will be divided into two discrete areas: methodology - "whether the company publishes resources or runs a mentoring scheme" - and the subject area and phase and primary or secondary. "It's not rocket science, but we're discovering a lot about our members as we go."

Such as? Well, how seriously many companies now take education, for starters.

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