Enterprise Education Initiative

– in the House of Commons at 10:30 pm on 26th June 1989.

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Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Sackyille.]

Photo of Mrs Gillian Shephard Mrs Gillian Shephard , South West Norfolk 11:06 pm, 26th June 1989

I am grateful to have the opportunity to raise in the House the important matter of co-operation between industry and education. The demographic decline in the number of young people, combined with rapid technological advances in all areas of industry and commerce, means that effective collaboration between business and education is vital if we are to maximise the potential of our young people.

The importance of collaboration between industry and education was perceived and tackled in Norfolk, of which my constituency is a part, some 12 years ago. The idea of a Norfolk schools and industry group first emerged as long ago as 1977. The group itself, now called the Norfolk education, industry and commerce group, was formally incorporated in 1981, since when industry and schools in Norfolk have greatly benefited from the partnership.

Everyone closely involved in education has had cause in the past to be concerned about the gap between the education system and business employers. Those in education have traditionally complained that employers are not interested in the broad aims and achievements of the education system, while employers, equally traditionally, have complained that schools are incapable of turning out young people who can read and write.

A particular instance of the gap in mutual understanding was the old certificate of secondary education examination which had many excellent features, such as its emphasis on course work, steady achievement and relevant study material, which have now been incorporated into the general certificate of secondary education. However, despite its excellence, many employers never understood the CSE, never wanted it, preferred the general certificate of education—often because they had taken it—and always regarded the CSE as second best. As one head teacher put it to me: Megaphone diplomacy to bridge that sort of gap doesn't work. What's needed is a consistent long-term working together so we can see what the other is trying to achieve. That was the aim of the Norfolk education, industry and commerce group when it was set up in 1981. At that time a major problem facing schools and industry was unemployment. Clearly the group's main role was to prepare young people for the demands of industry in a world where jobs were scarce and where their knowledge and skills needed to be as closely matched as possible to the jobs that there were. Now, thanks to the success of the Government's economic policy, the reverse is the case. With excellent employment prospects and a 20 per cent. drop in the number of young people, the need for close links between education and employers is just as great because employers will be competing for the right young recruits for their businesses. That competition will be given even greater point as we approach the challenges of 1992.

The aims of the group are to form links between business and education; to develop an understanding of business and its importance to the nation's prosperity; to affirm the importance of wealth creation in society and its social consequences; to present business as a stimulating environment offering fulfilling and creative careers; to discover how the needs of an industrial society are being met within the constraints of our education system and to provide a resource directory, a copy of which I have in the House, and which is a model of its kind, listing 140 different companies which are linked with the scheme. They include manufacturers, retailers, distributors, professional services and other services such as removals businesses, Anglia Television, oil companies, Norwich airport and catering concerns and, especially important in Norfolk, a farm-school link.

The group is a company limited by guarantee and with charitable status. Its executive committee includes the British Institute of Management, the careers service, chambers of commerce and trade, college principals, the Confederation of British Industry, the local education authority, the Engineering Employers Federation, head teachers, Her Majesty's inspectors, industrial training boards, the Institute of Directors, the Institute of Industrial Directors, junior chambers, the National Farmers Union, Understanding British Industry and the University of East Anglia. I go into some detail because I believe that the group is a model of its kind.

Clearly its work has developed over the years, but by any standards it is impressive as 6,000 sixth-form students have been involved in conferences and discussions, and 3,000 fifth-form students have been involved in seminars. Each year, 200 young people take part in young enterprise projects with prizes from industry. In 1988–89 alone, 29 school-based conferences were held and eight conferences for teachers and representatives of industry and commerce. The work for the young people is carefully structured and I have first-class examples of the material used in seminars and discussion groups. That material is jointly prepared by industry and education. One especially important event was a conference on education business partnerships held last January and arising from the CBI business education task force initiative.

The philosophy underlying that initiative could well serve as an inspiration for the Department of Trade and Industry enterprise education initiative. The brief for that business education task force states: Without an effective partnership developing between business and education the prospects for an internationally competitive United Kingdom economy in the 21st century will become remote. The issues have to be high on the agenda, both of the business community and of educationalists. We will all fail if answers cannot be found and applied. The consciousness of the need for education, among other things, to produce young people who can meet the challenges of today's and tomorrow's business and industry has been developing in education as part of the Government's education policy. Norfolk was fortunate to be chosen as a pilot area for the technical and vocational education initiative some years ago. That new approach to learning for 14 to 18-year-olds was Government-funded so that lessons could become more practical and relevant to adult life and work. Over the next few years, £10 million will be spent in Norfolk to extend the benefit of TVEI to all secondary schools. The Norfolk education industry and commerce group had agreed through its contacts and the network that it had built up to provide two weeks' work experience for every school leaver as part of TVEI—an offer now superseded by the developments that my hon. Friend will describe. But he will agree that it is to the group's credit that it was able to provide that much-needed extension of TVEI out of its own local initiative.

Other developments in various job-related courses for young people include work experience and lead to qualifications from organisations such as the Business and Technician Education council, the City and guilds and the Royal Society of Arts. Moreover, the national curriculum builds in a number of improvements which, although good in themselves, are also helpful to employers. A common curriculum leading to a common examination means, obviously, that employers can easily understand the standards that young people have reached, from whichever part of the country they come. The inclusion and encouragement of technology as part of the national curriculum are also vital not only for the education of young people but for needs of industry and business. Regular testing and assessment built into the Education Reform Act 1988 mean that records of a pupil's achievement when presented to employers can give a meaningful description of a young person's ability. That should be in place by 1990.

Other changes in the Education Reform Act, such as the inclusion of a business representative on every governing body, have been helpful in promoting integration between education and the business and industrial world. Many counties, including Norfolk, already have such representation, but now that governing bodies have such a close relationship with the way that schools are run—because of local financial management —practical interaction between business and education expertise will prove invaluable.

At the heart of education and industry links lies the need for two different cultures to understand one another. Industry Year in 1986 was a recognition that the two cultures were interdependent and that, in turn, on their co-operation depends the success of the economy. The feeling in the industrial world that somehow education might be anti-industry or anti-business caused schools to be the chief target for Industry Year—happily, with fruitful results. It is my experience that schools, far from finding the attentions of business and industry a nuisance, welcome them as a source of practical and almost moral support. Since 1986, demand for industrial involvement in schools has outstripped supply. I hope that we shall hear from my hon. Friend the Minister about the response of the Department of Trade and Industry to that demand.

I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister can respond to a number of specific concerns on school-industry links. First, there is a need for the benefits that I have described, arising from the Norfolk group's work for Norfolk youngsters, to be spread nationwide, for the benefit of everybody else's youngsters. The combination of the demographic decline in the number of young people and the need for a well-trained and flexible work force in the national interest means that such benefits are far too valuable to be available only where local enthusiasm has seen fit to develop them.

Secondly, a careful look should be taken at the particular difficulties of rural areas and small businesses. It is one thing for a large company to allow time for its managers to devote to learning about the educational system; it is another for a small, developing company to have to do the same—yet it is small business which is providing the fastest growing sector in our economy, which will employ many young people and which most precisely needs the help of flexibly trained employees.

Thirdly, real resources must be put into the development of a Government-inspired scheme on an ongoing basis. An excellent beginning has been made, but we have gone beyond the stage, if we are serious about school and business links, of expecting the education service simply to absorb that extra task with no help. The programme needs to run for a realistic time. There needs to be proper input into teacher education. The programme must be properly structured and should take account of the work that is already done by counties such as Norfolk.

This is an important subject, but it is an unsocial hour. I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Minister for his patience in listening to me. I know that he too regards the link between education and industry and business as very important. I look forward to hearing his response.

Photo of Eric Forth Eric Forth , Mid Worcestershire 11:19 pm, 26th June 1989

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South-West (Mrs. Shephard) not only on bringing this important subject to the attention of the House but on her good fortune in being able to do so. I shall endeavour to reply to the points that she made and give the House the up-to-date picture in the important subject of communication and understanding between education and industry.

I was most impressed—I think that anyone would be—by the detail that my hon. Friend gave the House of the initiatives and impressive work that has been done in Norfolk. I doubt whether many other local education authorities could match Norfolk's dedication and involvement. I hope that others will be made aware of the progress in Norfolk and will attempt to emulate it.

In the light of my hon. Friend's comments, I should like to draw attention to two important developments in the past week. I shall describe how they fit into a Governmentwide strategy to encourage enterprising attitudes in schools.

In preparing our plans, we have taken into account many of the points made by my hon. Friend. We have been determined to build on existing good practice and the experience of counties such as Norfolk and to avoid the reinvention of wheels. We therefore mounted a national initiative—the enterprise and education initiative—under which lessons learned throughout the country are shared by all local education authorities and spread throughout the business community and education world. It has a clear and simple structure and a sensible time scale. It will certainly meet two of the criteria that my hon. Friend mentioned. I assure her that it is well resourced; we currently plan to spend £32 million on it over the next four years.

My hon. Friend has already drawn attention to the need to ensure that trainee teachers gain appreciation of the needs of employers and of the importance of links between schools and employers. I am glad to be able to tell the House that part of the initiative of the Department of Trade and Industry will be a programme in initial teacher training. We will be committing £3·5 million to this work.

We have decided to help employers find their way round the education service and to help teachers find helpful employers. My hon. Friend has already drawn attention to the need to support and encourage the involvement of small businesses and those in rural areas: not only will smaller enterprises be able to benefit most from having future employers who are versatile and enterprising in their attitudes, but they are most likely to be able to offer teachers an understanding of economic management in miniature.

The Confederation of British Industry found in its survey that one factor stopping companies getting involved is confusion about who they should approach. The Society of Education Officers has told us that what is stopping many schools is that they do not have the time or organisation to make individual approaches to smaller local businesses. The Department has put in place a network of local enterprise and education advisers whose sole job is to encourage local partnership activity, in particular by marketing to employers the benefits of links with schools and persuading them to become involved. There are 147 advisers in place, whose work is costing the Department £8 million over two years. We are putting this considerable sum of money into this work because we believe that it is essential to the thrust of the initiative. By deploying this marketing force, we can help the uncommitted employer find his or her way through the multiplicity of organisations that operate in this sector, and continue to help the education service.

We recognise that it is not sufficient to ask employers to get involved with schools. We need to suggest specific activities, preferably offering deepening involvement as the employer gains experience. We have therefore set two demanding targets for our advisers, and, indeed, for employers.

First, we have asked the advisers to find work experience places for all pupils. Work experience does not mean offering a permanent job to young people. It means giving them a chance to find out what work is like. All that companies are being asked to do is take one or two children at a time and let them do a job for a week or two or, if that is not possible, to let them shadow a member of staff actually doing the job.

I am delighted to announce that in only the first five months of this year our advisers have found 67,000 additional work experience places. That is an impressive figure and I take this opportunity to commend the advisers who have found those places. I am sure that my hon. Friend welcomes that figure. I would not be surprised if she found that her county is taking a leading part in the scheme along the lines that she outlined. I am also delighted to report to the House the positive attitude that has been found among many of the companies that have been approached. We are very encouraged by that.

Partnership, however, does not stop at work experience for young people. Teachers, too, need personal experience of business especially if they are to deliver effectively the new national curriculum. Our second target, therefore, is to offer 10 per cent. of teachers each year the opportunity to gain some personal experience of the world of business.

Ten per cent. of teachers is a challenging target, particularly as many schools will be unable to spare the teachers in term time, so a high proportion of the placements will take place in school holidays. But we know that many employers are keen to arrange interesting placements for local teachers. They want to tell teachers about their industries. So, with the help of employers, we are determined to offer such an attractive programme to teachers that they will be keen to take part. We are committing £14 million over five years to ensure that that happens.

I have so far described how employers can help the local education service by giving work experience to a young person, and then graduating to giving business experience to a teacher, but there are many other ways in which employers can work with schools. Our advisers stand ready to help both employers and teachers to get involved in such activities, and we expect that they will give greater attention to these activities over the coming months. The national nature of the adviser service also means that good practice can quickly be shared around the country—as, indeed, can lessons about how to involve employers in rural areas.

I also emphasise that all this activity has been designed to complement the work of the Department of Education and Science and the Department of Employment. My right hon. Friends the Secretary of State for Employment and the Secretary of State for Education and Science joined my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, in launching the DTI's enterprise and education initiative. I shall touch on the roles of the other two Departments in this area.

The Department of Employment, and in particular the Training Agency, are particularly concerned with easing the transition from school to work. It is vital that education and training should smoothly bridge the transition from school to work. TVEI, mentioned by my hon. Friend, compacts and work-related further education initiatives help that to happen, in conjunction of course with the work of the careers service and YTS programmes.

The main task of the Department of Education and Science is to improve the structure and relevance of the curriculum. Last week that led to an important development in the form of the publication of the report of the national curriculum working group on design and technology. I sincerely compliment the group on its report which will present an exciting challenge to both teachers and their pupils. In the past, we have taught craft subjects by telling pupils what to make, and how to make them. In the future, pupils will be asked to think for themselves about the design of what they make, the time available to make it, the choice of materials, and indeed the cost. If the report is accepted, pupils will in future be taught to take account of the needs and preferences of consumers, and to prepare a simple business plan, including a cash forecast and budget, and to monitor performance against it. They will consider the importance of people as a resource, and the need to bring together, train and organise teams.

Where do we go from here? First, the various industry-education link bodies are beginning to respond to the curricular developments that I outlined earlier. They know that there is now little need for trail blazing. They instead need to advise and support teachers as they get to grips with the new design and technology curriculum, and in due course with the need to teach economic and industrial understanding within the whole curriculum. I am considering ways in which the DTI might support the link bodies as they set about this challenging and important task.

Second, I see signs that our support for local partnership activity, such as the adviser and teacher placement services, will lead to the creation of strong local partnerships between the education service and employers. For instance, we have already heard how, in Norfolk, the education, industry and commerce group is setting many fine examples to the rest of the country in promoting partnership activity. That organisation acts as host for both the DTI adviser and the teacher placement organiser.

I believe that every local community needs to create a strong and effective body which will promote partnership activity. The DTI has sought to encourage this process by generally appointing one local host organisation only to run both the adviser and teacher placement services. Last week in another important development we announced that we are taking this process one step further. We intend to give the new training and enterprise councils the chance to provide both the adviser and teacher placement services, but only, of course, if the existing local host bodies agree that their local TEC can take over this role. Local TECs will then be able to take a strategic overview of the whole work-related education and training provision in their area.

We must also review, before the end of next year, whether individual advisers and their hosts have offered good value for money to the taxpayer and to the local community. If they have, we shall need to consider whether the Department of Trade and Industry should offer further limited financial support to help individual communities to take over and develop the adviser service in a way that makes it even more responsive to local needs. I hope that my hon. Friend will be reassured, therefore, not only that we have put in place substantial resources to meet the immediate perceived demand, but that we shall keep a close eye on how matters develop and then hope that the burden can be gradually transferred from the taxpayer to local community efforts tailored in a way that most suits local needs.

I appreciate the spirit in which my hon. Friend has raised this subject. I have been impressed by what she has said about the efforts being made in her county of Norfolk. I hope that, from the few comments I have been able to make, my hon. Friend has been reassured that the Department of Trade and Industry is sensitive not only to needs nationally, but to the needs in Norfolk that she has described. I hope that what I have said will be good news in Norfolk and in the rest of the country and that people will realise the extreme seriousness with which we take the issue, the extent of the resources that we are committing to it and the great importance that Ministers at the Department of Trade and Industry and other Departments give to it. I hope that my hon. Friend will take that message back to Norfolk and give people there thanks for the work they have done and encouragement for the work that I am sure they will do in the future.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at twenty-nine minutes to Twelve o'clock.