Business in the Community Ireland sought to establish an educational initiative that could facilitate a positive impact from businesses on educationally disadvantaged communities in Ireland.
Significantly, the dropout rate at secondary level education in Ireland stands at almost 20%. The Schools-Business Partnership (SBP) was set up to encourage companies in Ireland to engage with educational leaders, teachers and students in programmes that could improve this statistic.
The SBP assists the Department of Education by partnering top companies in Ireland with almost 100 targeted schools in disadvantaged regions and communities at post-primary level. The SBP is governed by a multi-stakeholder Task Force that includes representation from both the business and education sectors. It meets quarterly to advise on policy and strategic direction.
There are four key programmes in SBP:
• Student Mentoring Programme: Companies invite volunteers to mentor 'at risk' students and engage in activities that: promote an understanding of the role of education; increase the self-esteem of the students; offer an insight into the 'world of work'; develop communication skills; and assist students in researching their career options. Both mentors and mentees receive training and on-going support sessions and participate in programme evaluation.
• Management Excellence for Principals: This countrywide programe evolved as a result of BITCI conducting a needs analysis with principals, who highlighted their need for development. Business leaders deliver management development seminars on leadership, performance management and time management to principals.
• Skills @ Work Programme: Corporate volunteers deliver sessions that endeavour to introduce senior cycle students to the world of work. Company overviews, workshops on interview skills and CVs, and site visits, are the main elements of the programme that provide students with an insight into the different functional areas of an organisation.
• Summer Work Placement Programme: The SBP partners the Dublin Funds Industry Association and provides students with summer work placements in the financial, service and manufacturing sctors. This offers students who are about to embark on their careers with a very practical and real insight into different industries in Ireland.
- Matching companies with partner schools in rural Ireland (however, a solution found by SBP was to group smaller companies together to share the delivery of various elements of the programme).
- Given Ireland's current high growth economy, there can be time and resource pressures for business managers.
- Overall there are not many constraints to the SBP due to the enormous sense of goodwill that exists amongst all the partners to really impact on educational disadvantage in Ireland.
- The success of SBP has influenced public policy in the development of the Government's new Action Plan for Educational Inclusion.
- The SBP model has been showcased at OECD level as a flagship model of partnership in addressing educational disadvantages.
- 85 companies are partnered with a school, thus reaching over 3000 students.
- Almost a third of Ireland's secondary level principals have participated in management excellence seminars.
- Positive impacts on student include: improved attendance, self-esteem, communication skills, improved motivation and a greater knowledge of employment opportunities.
- More than half of students placed on Summer work placements have been retained on contracts by companies at the end of their placement. Companies report that they are amongst their most loyal employees.
- The businesses report that involvement has enhanced employees' personal communications skills, increased company pride and loyalty, and enhanced the image of the company in its local community.