School pupils set to teach business leaders a lesson

A GROUP of Edinburgh business people and academics aiming to forge greater links between Scottish business and education are to take soundings from pupils on their views.

Sandy Paton, chairman of the Edinburgh Chambers of Commerce's newly-created Education Policy Group (EPG), has sent invitations to both state and private schools to take part in the evolving debate on why certain subjects, such as maths, science and modern languages, have such high drop-out rates in Scotland.

"I'm confident we'll get a positive response from the schools," said Mr Paton.

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Reversing the trend is crucial to Scotland's future economic success if the country is to become the "smart, successful Scotland" the Executive plans.

"We had our first meeting recently and it was unanimously decided that if we want to get a full cross-section of views we had to have their views on a range of things," said Mr Paton.

"In particular, maths, science and modern languages have high drop-out rates and we need to know if it's a case of them being too difficult, or whether it's to do with the way they are taught, or whether they're just subjects that are too dry."

And he adds: "I think it's a no-brainer because kids are not slow in coming forward."

Studies indicate that the drop-out rate in the likes of applied mathematics and chemistry is less than that seen in pure maths and chemistry.

"So maybe we need to see if teaching of these subjects would be more appealing if taught in relation to a real-life situation," said Mr Paton.

The EPG's aim is to set in motion a cycle of dialogue which will help shape a framework aimed at keeping the needs of business and Scotland's developing economy at the forefront of education. Members from a broad spectrum of the business and education communities plan to meet on a regular basis, with the next session due to take place on March 21.

Mr Paton - an Edinburgh-based business consultant and former director of small business banking at Bank of Scotland who also sits on a number of school and college boards - said interest in the EPG's aims is growing with academics and industrialists outwith the core EPG, offering assistance to propel the process which Mr Paton hopes will lead to direct dialogue with the Executive.

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With basic views from both business and academia gleaned, the EPG hopes input from pupils will provide for a more focused strategy going forward.

Another area of concern highlighted by the EPG's 14-strong members is the amount and quality of the work experience programmes offered to pupils.

"Getting work placements for pupils is not really the hard part," states Mr Paton. "Quite often it's a case of the business owners and people looking after them don't really have a proper programme for them.

"More thought needs to go into that because there's times when they'll do little more than make tea during their stay.

"Many employers do have good programmes and pupils benefit, but we want to see all kids saying 'that was great' and encouraging others to go for it."