A report by research agency AIR UK, commissioned by the Department for Children, Schools and Families (now the Department for Education)
This review of “the most robust evidence on the impact of education links with employers” in the UK and USA focuses on “evidence of a measurable improvement in grades, or other measures of students’ attainment”, plus a small range of other, readily quantifiable outputs such as improved attendance and higher initial wage rates. Researchers identified 135 ‘potentially relevant’ documents, narrowing this figure down to fifteen after measuring them against the review objectives and testing for scientific rigour.
The documents related to twelve studies, eight of which found positive impacts on attainment as a result of employer engagement. Four found neither positive nor negative impacts and no report found that attainment was adversely affected as a result of the employer engagement initiative. All studies found improvements in other outcome indicators, some of which were: lower drop-out rates; improved attendance; higher rates of enrolment and continuity in post-secondary education; increased likelihood of graduating on time; and higher wages.
The studies covered a variety of forms of employer engagement. Miller (1999) and Linnehan (2001) both find improved attainment as a result of mentoring programmes and Henderson and St John (1997) find that employer involvement in curriculum development and delivery has positive impacts on mathematics achievement. Other activities covered include enterprise projects, summer school and provision of expertise for teachers’ continuing professional development.
The review identifies successful characteristics of employer-engagement (the ones most likely to lead to higher attainment), noting that communication and collaboration between teachers and business regarding curriculum delivery is the “essential feature” and that having a range of practical experiences for students, high standards in schools, and high levels of business involvement were also common indices of successful initiatives. Reviewers point to the very low numbers of high quality studies in this field, stating that “a deeper understanding would require a stronger evidence base” and that “there is more quantity than quality of research on the impact of business links on directly measurable education outcomes”. The need for more studies on effects of employer engagement on attainment is clear.