High costs, low standards

March 01, 1993

An initiative to unite business, education, government and the voluntary sector behind the National Education and Training Targets was launched on March 31 at the first conference of the government’s new National Advisory Council for Education and Training Targets (see TECs below). Aim High, organised by Business in the Community, will encourage companies to develop quality programmes with schools and colleges by backing the new National Vocational Qualifications (NVQs) and so raising performance and levels of achievement.

Ten “pathways to achievement” have been identified, including:

Compact schemes to give young people incentives to achieve

mentoring programmes

more governors and managers from industry to assist schools.

A series of regional conferences and additional marketing materials will seek to involve small and medium-sized companies as well as re-engage national companies already involved in education/business partnerships. Contact Ian Pearce, BITC, on 071 629 1600

About six million adults in the UK, the majority of whom are in work, have serious problems with reading, writing, speaking English or basic maths. This costs industry about £4.8 billion each year in lost or faulty orders and other mistakes at work. In a comprehensive survey by the Adult Literacy and Basic Skills Unit published on March 23, the 400 employers questioned report that

over 1 in 4 of manual workers have problems with writing

1 in 6 with verbal communication, and

1 in 7 with reading.

Four in five employers said they would benefit from improving the basic skills of their workforces, but view the state education system as having the main responsibility for ensuring workers have adequate basic skills. ALBSU is funded by the Department for Education and the Welsh Office, and is chaired by Peter Davis of Reed Elsevier. Contact Stephen Wallace, ALBSU, on 071 405 4017

On March 11, the CBI published proposals to ensure education and training for all 16 to 19 year olds is world class. In Routes for Success: careership – a strategy for all 16-19 year old training, it proposes

a single framework for all examinations and qualifications, bridging the division between academic and vocational

reforms to the National Record of Achievement

a universal system of financial credits

independent careers advice for each individual

The CBI also called on employers to eliminate any under 18 employment which does not lead to a nationally recognised qualification, but insisted this should be done voluntarily. Contact CBI on 071 379 7400

Education is the responsibility of all sections of society and underpins its economic, social and political well-being, according to a new 240-page book sponsored by Whitbread and published on March 8. Teaching and Learning in Cities reviews contemporary thinking and practice in England and America about education in urban schools. The core of the book is a series of 12 essays by experts on both sides of the Atlantic. Teaching and Learning in Cities edited by James Learmonth ISBN 0 9503360 5 X price £6.95 plus £1.40 mail order from PO Box 123, Southampton SO9 7HH; further information, contact Chris Salt 071 615 1445

The third National Conference on Student Tutoring, supported by BP, was held on March 2 for the 105 schemes nationwide, under which college students go into schools to act as mentors. Evaluation commissioned by BP and discussed at the conference shows that children work harder in science after being tutored and generally their attitudes about options after 17 are broadened. Now BT has funded a three year research programme of the CSV Learning Together scheme. Contact Judy Porter, BP, on 071 496 2229 or Amanda Daniel, CSV, on 071 278 6601

A survey of IBM school governors on the first anniversary of its School Governors’ Programme shows twice as many are chairs compared to the national average. More than half serve on finance sub-committees and two thirds help with recruitment, using their business skills to help their schools. In addition many reported that being a school governor helped to develop their personal and managerial skills.

IBM has over 300 employee governors and has an internal newsletter and electronic mail forum for direct communication between them. An internal training course is planned for June this year. Contact Chris Lowe on 071 202 5338

The Pre-School Play Groups Association announced that nearly 20 leading employers have become Friends, following the launch late last year of the scheme. Avon Cosmetics and Marks & Spencer are lead sponsors and other companies including Coopers & Lybrand and HarperCollins Publishers. The Association supports local play-groups attended by more than 750,000 children, the largest single provider of care and education for under-fives. Contact Jenny Wallace on 0474 822185

Education Minister, John Patten MP, speaking at a CBI conference in London on March 10, urged businesses to become more involved in education. Employers are shareholders in education, he said, and likened education links to partnership links with other suppliers.

At the same conference, Howard Davies, the CBI’s Director General, said Britain is now ranked 20th out of 22 countries on quality of people skills, according to the World Economic Forum’s yearly competitiveness report. He stressed the importance of measuring progress on improving standards, but said school performance league tables should be compiled by an independent body such as the Audit Commission, not the government. Contact DFE on 071 925 5555 or CBI on 071 379 7400

Over 300 students and 70 advisers and employers attended the third Compact Plus Club conference held in Birmingham on March 19. The aim of Compact Plus is to improve the success rate with students at risk of failing to meet their goals. It grew from experience of an American school-to-work transition programme, and John McKernan, Maine State Governor and Chair of Jobs for America’s Graduates, addressed the conference. Contact Bill Sowerby, BITC, on 071 629 1600

Forty girls from across the country were awarded scholarship by Unilever Research to attend the third Science at St Hilda’s Chemistry Workshop held at Oxford on March 18 to 20. The aim of the workshop was to prepare women for future careers in chemistry. Contact Alan George, Unilever, on 051 644 8684

The Partnership Trust is setting up a system of teaching quality awards for the further education sector, sponsored by individual companies, in parallel to its five year old scheme for higher education. Called the Beacon Awards, these will highlight quality and effectiveness in the newly-reorganised sector which is being taken from local government and funded directly by central government. Contact David Brancher on 071 839 6101

Help the Aged has updated its Primary School Programme with £150,000 sponsorship from healthcare company, SmithKline Beecham. The programme provides educational materials and a Hector Club scheme to highlight issues concerning elderly people. Primary schools also help fundraise for Help the Aged, having raised £1 million in 1991-92. Contact Jill Smith, Help the Aged, on 071 253 0253

The Directory of Social Change organised an awards scheme for schools resource materials produced by voluntary organisations, presented on Red Nose Day March 12 by Comic Relief supporter, Zo? Wanamaker. Amnesty International won the Senior Award for its teaching pack and Video Working for Freedom. Over 250 voluntary organisations submitted entries and among the highly commended runners-up were materials from the Poetry Society, sponsored by BP and the Tidy Britain Group, sponsored by Ribena. A guide to classroom resources from voluntary organisations will be published in the summer. Contact Susan Forrester,DSC, on 071 284 4366

Food Minister, Nicholas Soames MP, opened the new Food Science building at Leeds University on March 9. Allied-Lyons provided £150,000 towards the costs and other donors included Asda and the Kellogg Company of Great Britain. Contact Keith Copland, Leeds University, on 0532 336699


By any standards, £4.8 billion is a lot of money for British industry to be paying for its workforce’s serious inadequacies in simple reading, writing and arithmetic. And talking of standards, every survey shows Britain lagging far behind our industrial competitors in the number of teenagers leaving school unqualified or graduates with science degrees. The issues the new Aim High initiative is going to address are not only urgent, they are vital to this country’s future prosperity.

But the question must be asked whether another campaign to get companies involved in partnership with schools and colleges is not simply fiddling while Rome burns.

Perhaps the most telling statistic in the basic skills survey was that nearly 90% of companies questioned said it is the state’s responsibility to educate the workforce. But what responsibility should companies have? The CBI says under 18 employment not linked to training should be eliminated, but it wants businesses to do that “voluntarily”. As a nation we can’t go on trying to have it both ways: either government delivers on raising standards and skills or it must legislate to force business to do the job; currently neither side is accepting responsibility and our industrial future is in jeopardy.

Corporate Citizenship Briefing, issue no: 9 – March, 1993