Working with business

Business in the Community is twenty years old in 2002. Twenty years ago, I was training to be a teacher. I don't remember any mention at that time of business engagement in education, except, perhaps, a very short reference to posters and teaching materials sponsored by various companies. Four years later, taken on by Staffordshire LEA as a probationary teacher in a Lichfield primary school, I was lucky enough to be drawn into the fledgling education business partnership movement, through the enthusiasm of my deputy head. She showed me projects that her ten and eleven year olds had done with local businesses, how working with 'adults other than teachers'

had motivated her pupils, how finding out about the world of work had sparked unexpected spin offs in their creative writing, maths and technology activities. I tried some of her ideas, formed a link with the newly opened McDonalds in the city and got hooked on opening up my classroom to include the real world outside the school gates.

Since that time, links between schools and business have matured and developed considerably. In many primary schools for example, volunteers from local companies visit every week to hear children read, play maths games or help with information technology or science activities. In secondary schools, students get involved in enterprise activities, learn about how businesses operate and undertake work experience. Many young people have mentors drawn from the business community. One in five headteachers have now been partnered with a business leader with whom to share ideas and sound off, as part of the 'Partners in Leadership'

programme, run by Business in the Community with the National College for School Leadership. Many teachers get an opportunity to spend time in companies on long and short-term placements, developing their skills and curriculum knowledge.

Many companies' attitudes to schools have changed. They have recognised that supporting educational projects can reap benefits for them in terms of developing the skills of employee volunteers, increasing staff motivation and creating a culture of learning within the business. Business leaders have discovered that the teaching profession is a highly creative one and that teachers and pupils often help boost innovation and enterprise within a company. They've also learned that headteachers often demonstrate exceptional leadership qualities and can help coach them in their own workplaces.

The education business link movement has come a long way in the twenty years that Business in the Community has been in existence. Local education business partnership organisations exist in every Education Authority, working to broker effective links. They and other specialist agencies are being encouraged to work together in consortia within Learning and Skills Council areas to build scale and avoid duplication.

There are many examples of excellence, some detailed in the following pages, but we still have a long way to go before partnerships between schools and businesses are seen as the norm and not the province of the enthusiast.

The blockers to development do still exist. Too many schools still see business only as a source of cash donation rather than a potential partner in a project involving exchanges of skill or time. Too many businesses fail to see the range of ways in which they could get involved with their local school and so never take the first step of getting in contact. And whilst local brokers do all they can to get schools and businesses together, they are often insufficiently resourced and so are unable to get as wide a reach as they would like.

But when schools, companies and their brokers do all work together effectively, the results can be extraordinary.

If your school isn't already involved in a business link, use the next few pages to give you some ideas and then phone your local broker to get some introductions. And rest assure, we at Business in the Community and our colleagues will be doing all we can to develop new and innovative programmes, continue to build the movement and persuade more companies to get involved.

Business in the Community member companies have directed their educational involvement into three key areas: raising levels of achievement in basic skills; preparing young people for employment; and supporting the leadership and management in schools. The following pages will look at these areas with examples of how schools are benefiting from education business links.

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