“In this increasingly global market there is no hiding place, no comfortable backwater. Others will not rest. They will pass us by. We must continually improve our performance.”
Michael Heseltine MP made this statement at the Annual Conference of the National Advisory Council on Education and Training Targets on February 25, 1994. He succinctly and powerfully provides a rationale for partnerships and shows the task facing us all. Clearly, since the education service and the wider community – including business – share responsibility for the education and training of the population as a whole, he also shows what a crucial part business education links must play in ensuring success – for the nation, society and the individuals within it.
Under this broad umbrella there are other factors which bind the worlds of education and business together to demand closer, more effective links. But before we consider the future, we need to scrutinize current practice for signposts. Encouraging signs suggest that the time is right for education and business to get even closer.
There are several imperatives around for businesses which indicate a need for broader strategic alliances. Not only does globalisation present challenges – the development of the local economy coupled with decline in unskilled jobs is bringing about changes in individual aspirations. Besides this, rethinking about company structures is generating the need for new and different ways of working whilst population growth alongside pressure on finite resources is pushing more fundamental issues higher up the common agenda. Within a climate of increased competition, these contrive not only to focus thinking within individual organisations but also to demand greater independence between company and community – especially the education community.
There is evidence, too, that new needs are bringing about changes in the world of education which, because effectiveness could be significantly enhanced through partnerships with the business community, mean that previous prejudices, resistance or suspicion look likely to be discarded in favour of positive co-operative action.
New vocational qualifications have been enormously popular, with demand almost outstripping supply. Many organisations have eagerly embraced the principle of accrediting employees with National Vocational Qualifications (NVQs) especially where no recognition was offered before, as with retailing, for example. This is reflected in schools and colleges by rapidly expanding participation in General National Vocational Qualifications (GNVQs). Within SCIP, we have found there is increasing interest from both education and businesses in developing GNVQ modules where companies like GKN, KPMG Peat Marwick, Scotts, United Biscuits and Esso provide content and activity for learning core skills (problem-solving, team-work, effective communication, etc) which individuals need and businesses want. This is underpined by collaborative new approaches to teaching and learning which make a strong case for the long-overdue reform of A levels.
Lower down in schools, Sir Ron Dearing’s review of the National Curriculum recommends a vocational curriculum for all pupils which, if appropriately designed, will generate cohesion and parity of esteem in the outdated divide between the so-called academic and the vocational. Every subject in the curriculum has elements of both dimensions. Even Shakespeare was not an ethereal, imaginative mystic wandering about in a purple haze. He was a businessman and entrepreneur who made his living by acting and writing. Partnerships can enhance Sir Ron’s vision.
Other important developments where partnership is essential are the introduction of the Modern Apprenticeship scheme and the progressive extension of Training Credits. If these are to be successful, education and business must collaborate both to inform on the supply side and satisfy the demand.
This talk of ‘binding factors’ and ‘community glue’ begs the question as to where in the community we locate the glue factory! Who will manage the process and “hold the ring”? Research and experience show that things don’t happen effectively by chance. Proper planning and clear strategies are needed. Co-ordinated planning needs to be matched by best partnership practice. At a strategic level, Local Education Partnerships as well as Chambers of Commerce and sector-led bodies all have a contribution to make. Besides this, government involvement is essential to complete the picture. The new Integrated Regional Offices will be well-placed to contribute since the government’s objectives for the deployment of the Single Regeneration Budget are central to the business education partnership debate. At the delivery end, agencies like SCIP, Young Enterprise and The Teacher Placement Service will need to provide the necessary professional practitioners to work with companies, schools and colleges. All these key players must come together to provide coherent two-tier strategies – one at the policy development level and one which delivers locally on the ground.
If the shared needs generated by the imperatives and the context within which partnerships operate provide the umbrella for partnership activity, the National Targets for Education and Training can provide the vehicle for partnership activity. What could be more binding than communities working together on the achievement of nationally agreed and recognised goals for the sake of the nation and its people? The benefits should not only show when there is a rise in national standards of education and training but also in the development of cohesive approaches to the social and economic regeneration of communities.
Thus, as the benefits for the broader community become clear, individual organisations can see they have much to gain from partnership activity. Companies seeking to be preferred employers or active members of their communities can reap rewards with increased business opportunities and favourable PR. Similarly, schools and colleges can gain – in particular, by enhancing the curriculum with more relevant, and thus more motivating, content. For each it should become what Chris Marsden (Head of Community Relations at BP) has described as “a normal part of doing business”(1).
So what is the future for education business partnerships? The old ideas of arm’s length sponsorship and ‘do-gooding’ need to be abandoned in this new climate. If we are to meet both challenges and needs, all partners have to work on translating what are currently just links into firm relationships. Long-term ‘planned partnerships’ need to be developed systematically.
This means all partners must be clearer about the objectives and desired outcomes of collaboration. Companies need to be sure not only where business education partnerships activity fits into corporate plans but also how participation can be demonstrably of benefit to both business and education. They need to refine and focus what they offer so that the value added from partnership activity is clear and measurable – both qualitatively and qualitatively. For example, NatWest has identified the concept of financial literacy as being the area of the curriculum where they can most appropriately and effectively work with schools and colleges. Companies need to know what best delivers the organisation’s objectives for partnership – whether, like Whitbread, it is curriculum development or, like Safeway, teacher placements or, like Queens Park Rangers Football Club, mentoring schemes or, like the Post Office, school governor training.
In response, the education sector has to be clear about what partnerships can offer to a learner’s development and where they fit within both Institutional Development Plans and individual records of achievement. Further, partnership activities need to be embedded into course and lesson design, then firmly timetable to ensure effectiveness for all learners, not just loosely referred to in curriculum plans. Both sides can thus make a significant impact both achieving the targets the nation has set for itself and on raising standards generally.
My vision is of partners from business and education learning together with a joint commitment to creating learning organisations within learning communities. What an exciting and challenging prospect!
(1) Chris Marsden, Partnership: A Normal Part of Doing Business, CEI Occasional Paper 1992/1, Centre for Education and Industry, July 1992
SCIP is a national organisation, administered by the University of Warwick, dedicated to the promotion of partnerships between education and industry. Over the past fifteen years SCIP has become the largest education industry organisation in the UK and Europe.
It supports an extensive network of professionals in affiliated Local Education Authorities, Education Business Partnerships, TE s, schools and colleges, working with businesses, trade unions and other agencies to help develop a coherent and co-ordinated approach to the work-related curriculum. In particular SCIP provides:
consultancy on education industry policies, programmes and links;
project management of initiatives and programmes and links;
publications service involving an extensive resource catalogue and support for the development of materials;
training through conferences, workshops and seminars.
To find out how SCIP can add value to your organisation’s links with education please contact Carol Kay, Chief Executive, Centre for Education & Industry, University of Warwick, Coventry CV4 7AL. Tel: 0203 524371 Fax: 0203 524533
Corporate Citizenship Briefing, issue no: 15 – April, 1994