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Education (Industrial Links)

10.14 pm

Mr. Richard Page (Hertfordshire, South-West) : I apologise to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for keeping him at the crease at this late hour, but I promise to be brief. I welcome this opportunity to talk about the important subject of the requirement and the necessity for industrial links with education. I want to speed on the cultural change taking place between education and industry and to help our school leavers to understand the importance of industry.

Going back a few years, I remember a story that did the rounds about a school teacher who took a number of her charges to a factory. As she loaded them into the coach to return to school, she said, "There you are, children, that's where you'll end up if you don't pass your exams." Unfortunately, that was part of the cultural thinking within the education system at that time. It is a silly story, but it has a grain of truth. That approach must be changed. I know that over the years attempts have been made to change attitudes. A few years ago it was industrial year and many hon. Members spoke to schools and to industry. I was grateful to the Eastern Electricity board--one might regard it as an unlikely vehicle-- which ran a vigorous campaign to bring schools and industry closer. I could not help thinking at the time, "I bet that in Japan every year is industrial year." The industrial links between education and the factories that produce Japanese products are well known. The French education system tries to avoid any form of selection, but for fifth and sixth formers it is the Baccalaureate "C" that has the social cachet connected with maths and science. French parents are proud to say that their sons or daughters have the "C".

On another tack, which I regularly raise in the House, it is a sad fact that of the G7 industrial countries Britain is lowest of the pile in manufacturing investment. In research and development, as a percentage of gross national product, we are lowest in the pile, and the amount we spend on training makes us lowest of the pile. However, the efforts being made by my hon. Friend's Department to give to industry the responsibility for training is beginning to bear fruit and there is a great realism within industry.

It is clear that industry must work a great deal harder to establish links with the classroom and to inspire the young to the view that industry is the future of this country. Teachers must overcome any previous taint that industry is somehow second class. The future economy of our country rests with industry, and I look forward to what my hon. Friend has to say on this matter.

10.18 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science (Mr. Alan Howarth) : I congratulate my hon. Friend the Membefor Hertfordshire, South-West (Mr. Page) on securing this Adjournment debate, and I very much welcome his choice of subject.

Since the industrial revolution we have seen what might be called the acceleration of history. The rate of change has grown faster, and it grows faster still, and we have to be able to adapt successfully to these rapidly changing technological and economic conditions. My hon. Friend is absolutely right : the 1990s will present us with problems and opportunities different from those we have

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experienced in the 1970s and 1980s. We cannot hope to predict all of these, but some of them are clear now and it is by no means too early to be planning our strategies to deal with them.

The quality of life for all of us depends on the extent to which our business community--the people who generate the wealth--can cope with the kind of changes of which I speak, and the education system has, as my hon. Friend said, a vital part to play in helping business to succeed.

Our young school leavers will have open to them opportunities that our predecessors would have envied, and a good many of them are getting ready to seize those chances. However, as Louis Pasteur put it,

"chance favours only the prepared mind."

The corollary is, of course, that mischance visits the unprepared. There are now only three short years until the single European market comes into effect in 1992. But beyond the EC lies wider international competition and, of course, the pressure of accelerated scientific and technological innovation.

We must also remember another factor--the demographic time bomb. By the mid -1990s there will be 1 million fewer 16 to 19-year-olds than in the mid- 1980s. Therefore, school leavers will be in a stronger bargaining position than ever before, and that is important. The firms that will be able to attract and retain young people in an increasingly competitive future will be those which offer worthwhile training, the firms that are positively regarded in the local community, the firms that go into schools and the firms that are known to pupils and teachers.

The last decade has seen a tremendous growth in links between schools and the business world. I am glad to be able to tell my hon. Friend that about 90 per cent. of secondary schools now have links with local firms, and more than half of primary schools as well. In the mid-1970s, under 15 per cent. of final-year pupils had been placed in industry for full work experience. By last year this had risen to more than 70 per cent. of all eligible pupils.

However, as my hon. Friend said, there is still more to be done, in terms of both quantity and quality, and much of the onus lies with industry. The CBI business education task force report of last autumn found that more than half the respondents to the business questionnaire had no regular links with secondary schools in 1987, and that very many more small and medium sized companies will need to be recruited to the links effort if we are to meet our targets for work experience. It was schools rather than businesses that were taking the lead in establishing links.

The best way for business to influence the future and to improve its own productive and creative capacity is to become involved now in the schools and colleges. Education-industry links are not a fringe activity. They are not a luxury. It is those firms that are working with schools now who will be best placed to continue to recruit school leavers. In addition, crucially, they will also be best placed to influence the education those young people have received, to ensure that the knowledge, skills and attitudes they gain from their time in school are those that will best fit them for adult life. To compete successfully as a nation we will need to exploit all our resources to the full, and a major resource is a properly educated and well-motivated work force. Therefore, it is a major thrust of Government policy that the school experience of young people should prepare

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them for the responsibilities of adult and working life. Economic awareness should run through many aspects of a child's education. It will be a cross-curricular requirement and an important influence. The appreciation of economic realities is a necessary complement to the broad scientific and humane education that we regard as necessary for all our children.

The responsibility for giving young people the skills they need rests with both schools and employers. I have mentioned what the CBI task force had to say about the level of business involvement. Its report also made clear that what business wants from education is not specific vocational training but a broad and flexible base of knowledge, skills and attitudes upon which pupils can develop their own talents. Young people should be able to communicate effectively, both orally and in writing ; be numerate ; have basic screen and keyboard skills, and have a developed sense of responsibility. Business also puts considerable stress on positive attitudes to work, to change, to self-development and to team work--without which knowledge and skills cannot be applied effectively in the workplace. That willingness on behalf of businesses to help in our schools is becoming more common. The new relationship between schools and business is one of partnership. As we labour to make our schools better attuned to the realities and challenges of economic life, so we are entitled to expect employers to take advantage of the invitation to become involved in education.

The Government's changes to the constitution of school governing bodies should make it easier for schools to draw on advice from people with business experience. One could put it like this : the changes mean, and are intended to mean, that schools and teachers are now in a relationship with business partners. I do not exaggerate the case. A National Foundation for Educational Research survey commissioned by my Department this summer found that 42 per cent. of the membership of reconstituted

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governing bodies came from business, the professions, retail and technical occupations and engineering ; and of course we are working to help teachers expand their own knowledge of the business world. Contrary to many people's belief, many schools have teachers with experience of work other than teaching. But this is an area where more is better, and the teacher placement service, funded through the DTI's enterprise and education initiative, aims to offer 10 per cent. of teachers each year the opportunity of a placement in business. The Government are convinced of the virtues of close links between education and business. We have launched a number of major initiatives to bring schools into closer contact with the world of work--such as TVEI, which requires work experience and is currently being extended nationwide at a cost of £900 million ; the provision in every LEA of a work experience adviser ; and the teacher placement service. We provide support to a wide range of bodies that promote and arrange school-industry links. And, by no means least, the national curriculum will ensure that the education that our children receive is more relevant to the world of work--and thus to their needs throughout their lives--than ever before.

I must not finish without paying tribute to the work of the teachers in schools, without whose efforts the position would not be so dramatically improved. The Government have brought about the climate in which the improvements of the last decade have occurred. But the actual formation of worthwhile links between a school and local firms requires energy and commitment at local level. Those teachers who have worked so hard in the last decade to bring about such links--and who, aided by the framework of the national curriculum, will, I know, continue that development--deserve our praise and gratitude.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at twenty-six minutes past Ten o'clock.

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