institute for employment studies
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Education Business Link Clusters Evaluation
Hillage J, Barry J, Pike G
research commissioned by the DfES
This summary was published as the Department for Education and Skills Research Brief RR379.
In September 2000, nine groups of schools were invited to work in partnership, with the support of a specially appointed broker, to develop joint approaches to education business link (EBL) activity. The ten main messages to emerge from the evaluation of the pilots were that:
In September 2000, nine clusters (small groups) of schools were invited to work in partnership to develop joint approaches to education business link (EBL) activity, with the support of a specially appointed broker. A pilot cluster was established in each of the nine English regions. The pilots were funded for a total of two years to test the impact of a broker working with a specific cluster of schools – particularly in the areas of developing a progressive experience of the world at work from an early age up to pre-16 work experience and teacher placements.
The Institute for Employment Studies (IES) was commissioned in September 2000 to develop a national evaluation framework and to use it to assess the value of the pilots. IES conducted a range of visits to the pilots, interviewing brokers and other intermediaries and representatives from schools and employers and held a series of workshops involving representatives from the pilots.
The achievements of the clusters as a whole were assessed in a range of areas identified in the evaluation framework covering:
Progress achieved in each of these areas is summarised below.
The quality of EBL activity
We found that the quality of EBL activity in most of the schools involved with the clusters had improved during the course of the pilot and in particular there was evidence of:
Management of EBL in schools
Most of the schools became more interested in and aware of the benefits that EBL activities could provide. In a few cases, school policies on EBL activity were developed, and development plans gave greater prominence to EBL activity. However, in other cases it is not clear that greater commitment and interest will continue to be translated into activity without the support of the broker to maintain momentum as other calls on teacher time and attention take hold. In some cases, schools became more willing to share ideas, although generally collaborative working was limited.
General EBL activity
Generally, more attention appears to have been paid to EBL activity in the schools involved in the clusters than would otherwise have been the case – particularly in primary schools. It is likely that some activities will continue beyond the life of the pilots, but not at the same volume.
Few of the pilots concentrated on work experience. Those that did focussed on improved preparation and, to an extent, better quality of placements. While both are important and some of the preparation events were reported to be extremely successful and motivational, neither amount to major innovations in the provision of placements.
Again teacher placements were only a feature in a minority of pilots. However, involvement does seem to have brought about both an increase in placement activity (with some schools taking part in placements for the first time) and a greater focus on the placement in terms of building links with the general curriculum. The latter led to spin-offs in terms of other EBL activities (such as projects or work experience). However, most placements were short in length – one or even half a day (arguably too short to make a significant difference). Placements therefore tended to be fairly instrumental in their aims (eg to secure better work experience placements or to organise a particular curriculum project), ie a means to the end of securing more EBL activity rather than ‘continuous professional activity’ in the human resource development sense. It is clear that placements are highly dependent on external funding (for supply cover) and support (to broker the arrangement).
Relationships with employers
There is evidence of schools building a larger number of and, in some cases, more effective and longer-term relationships with local employers. Although the total number of such ‘partnerships’ is fewer than the number of clusters, their success has provided a model and inspiration for more to be developed in the future.
Brokering and clustering
A general conclusion of this evaluation is that the broker has been crucial to the success of the pilots, although across the nine pilots, the role of the broker was structured and resourced in different ways and the broker performed a number of roles.
The way in which the pilots deployed the broker varied between two general models:
The broker played a variety of roles, including:
The key aspects of value that brokers brought to the clusters were:
The clusters varied in the way they were structured and operated, which made comparisons difficult. The key points of value from grouping together of schools in clusters appear to be:
However, the benefits of being involved in a cluster varied. The most beneficial relationships appeared to be between secondary and primary schools and (to a lesser extent) between primary schools rather than between the secondaries. Where involved, special schools benefited considerably from working with other schools.
Many of the pilots devolved some of the funding direct to schools and all used an element of the funding to finance particular activities or support the cluster. The funding was particularly important in financing supply cover for teachers and was reported to have had a proportionally more significant effect at primary level.
The general view among our interviewees was that few of the clusters were self-sustaining beyond the life of the pilot, as the broker was crucial to maintaining the vibrancy of the cluster. However, in at least three areas there were plans to continue and/or extend the broker model, and funding had been sought or secured from bodies such as the local Education Business Link Organisation (EBLO) and others.
Copies of the full report (RR379) priced £4.95 are available by writing to DfES Publications, PO Box 5050, Sherwood Park, Annesley, Nottingham NG15 0DJ or phoning 0845 60 222 60. Cheques should be made payable to ‘DfES Priced Publications’
Copies of this Research Brief (RB379) are available free of charge from the above address. Research Briefs and Reports can also be accessed at www.dfes.gov.uk/policy/.
Education Business Link Clusters Evaluation, Hillage J, Barry J, Pike G. Research Report RR379, Department for Education and Skills, 2002.
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