Bring the boardroom into the classroom

November 24 2000

IT’S a truly shocking indictment of the government’s ability to prepare our children for the future. But it’s also probably one of the biggest opportunities ever to influence the education system and make value changes for the better.

I’m talking about the £1.7m scheme to support bright kids from poor families achieve a place at university. It’s funded by the private sector – a bank with a social conscience (surely some mistake) – and it is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to business support of our education system.

We’ve got Microsoft developing vocational technology qualifications to deliver 10,000 market-ready IT graduates to meet the increasing skills shortage in Scotland. (This is accredited by the Scottish Qualifications Authority, which is probably the only fly in the ointment of what is a commendable initiative to be rolled out in 50 further education colleges next year.)

Microsoft is also developing an e-commerce qualification, working on the revision of the Higher National Certificate in Computing, and celebrating the success of an IT summer school pilot run earlier this year.

Such private sector sponsorship is to be rewarded by the Scottish Executive. Enterprise and Lifelong Learning Minister Wendy Alexander says: “If people or institutions want to give to universities they should target schemes that broaden access – we will reward these schemes.”  I would have thought the opportunity to get in amongst the system and sort it out would be reward enough – invest the “prize money” back in the system!

This trend towards the American-style approach to private sector funding of higher education can only be a good thing.

But business can’t just provide the money and delegate the task to schools, colleges and universities.  The education system as it stands currently just doesn’t work; it needs to be run as a business, by businesspeople not civil servants.

Business must assume responsibility for how the money is spent, ensure tight budget control, recruit and motivate the best teachers (ditch the rest), and then measure their return on investment in terms of qualifications received, jobs taken-up and a decrease in the skills shortage.

Our children must be taught by people with a passion for their subject, rather than someone in a comfort zone, who enjoys a nice healthy salary and more holidays a year than an entrepreneur would know what to do with.

Indeed, I don’t see why the government doesn’t just hand over care, management and development of the education system completely to the private sector – they’d make a successful business out of it, I’m convinced.

Can you imagine how our education system could develop when led by a highly-creative, innovative and successful Board of leading Scots entrepreneurs, such as Tom Hunter, whose passion for education is ever-increasing; Jim McColl, who plays a huge part in encouraging collaboration between enterprise and education; Norma Black* (whose coaching approach to education and helping kids realise their potential is phenomenal) and Chris Gorman, whose midas touch could turn education into a profitable business, if recent success is anything to go by.

Which brings me back to Schools Enterprise Scotland (SES) Limited, which I mentioned in this very column a few weeks ago. They want to invest £5million to introduce enterprise education into all Scottish primary schools over the next three years. The investment was to be split equally between the Scottish Executive and the private sector.

I understand the Scottish Executive plans to renege on their pledge of £2.5m if the private sector doesn’t have a total pledge value of £2.5m by Christmas.

How dare they?  It’s taken them long enough to get their collective finger out and listen to the business world and pulling out of such an incredibly brilliant project is just the sort of ignorant beaurocratic pig-headed behaviour we’ve come to expect from government bodies.

Apparently it’s about budgets, but I believe they should be doing this because it’s the right thing to do, not because they have to spend the money from their budget or lose it next time around.

So this is a call to arms – businessmen and women dig deep into your pockets and start spending your profits with a social conscience.  To the Scottish Executive and Wendy Alexander: if you have to find more money to make this work, just do it. No excuses!

*Norma Black is now Norma Corlette and has just launched yet another new business, while focusing on mentoring and coaching women to succeed in the boardroom.

THIS article was written 10 years ago today, and I just wonder what progress we have made with our education system. If you read my blog regularly, you will know I have a passion for preparing our kids properly for the big bad world of work, and I’m still not sure we’ve got it right. In fact, I know we have not got it right.

What do you think we need to do to give our kids the very best opportunity? And how do we ensure this happens?