This April, the Government and Ofsted have once again attempted to forge better links between employment and education, calling for closer working relationships with business and possibly from the awakening realisation that not all students are going to achieve academic success or even stay on successfully in further education. They are asking schools to 'help every pupil develop high aspirations and consider a broad and ambitious range of careers. Inspiring every pupil through more real-life contacts with the world of work can help them understand where different choices can take them in the future.' But then, how can schools address this issue without sacrificing their curriculum? We already offer Work Experience to our Year 10 pupils but is this simply paying lip service to such a policy by sending them off into the workplace, often not of their choosing, for just one week? Many schools, including my own, invite guest speakers in to talk to whole year groups, but is this really enough to inspire our young wards?
Well, for many years at my school we have embraced working with industry, but then we have been in the fortunate position of having a Work Related Learning Coordinator (WRLC) who has tirelessly worked with teachers and employers to bring both closer together in a mutually beneficial way. While the inspiration behind the current moves were published in September, since then the very same MP, Matthew Hancock, has visited our inner-city school and was himself inspired by what he saw, and by what any school can offer not because of some Government mandate but because, when done properly and pupil-centrically, it can truly inspire pupils to think about their future and even about their plans beyond GCSE and A Levels.
When I first started here eleven years ago, we did not offer A Level Media Studies (a subject Michael Gove is now planning on scrapping from the GCSE curriculum and thereby missing the point of offering a GCSE that is both popular and work-related) but thanks to student pressure it has been an integral part of our A Level provision for the past 6 years or so. Without this A Level, the pupils I teach would not have even considered a career within media; something we excel in producing in this country and an arena that truly offers a diverse range of career opportunities in any number of fields related to this creative industry, and another reason why Gove might think twice about extracting it in his drive to return to his Golden Age of Education that exists in his mind and only his mind. In those few years, and thanks in no small part of our WRLC, Richard Riley, we have worked in partnership with Birmingham Airport, Aston Villa and now my Year 12 students are about to embark on a project with Warwickshire Cricket Club to help re-design and re-launch their Community webpage for fans. These were, and are, all real-life working briefs that any number of design studios may encounter. For Birmingham Airport, and with my very first untested set of Media Studies students, we re-designed their in-house magazine, which has a circulation of 300,000+ per issue. It wasn't simply a design brief but took on the whole issue of re-branding a tired newspaper style publication into one that would be both more visually appealing and also reach out to communities it had failed to attract before. Issues of language as well as layout were tackled before launching successfully to the public. Following the success of this project we worked with Aston Villa in re-packaging their fan page. Again, with solutions professionally presented to Villa's board (itself a work related learning experience) they were able to dramatically re-imagine their whole Young Villans (sic) Junior supporters scheme. Every time I see their mascot, Hercules the Lion and his extended family, I cannot help but feel proud of our pupils' accomplishments. And this is coming from a Liverpool fan. This last year alone, we worked with a local independent filmmaker, Sam Lockyer, to create our own promotion video for the school, which helped gain one of our students a place on a Media Studies course next year at Birmingham City University. Here is someone whose experience of Media Studies and work related learning will now see him study towards gaining employment into a sphere of work he would never have otherwise considered.
But then, you do not have to offer Media Studies at any level to offer inspirational work related learning opportunities. I am, of course, speaking from my own experience but there are other ways to offer students real-world opportunities and develop their talents in areas they may not realise they had talents in. Our Business Studies students have recently won The Young Enterprise Challenge for Best Company, beating 2000 schools in the process, designing and producing nifty little battery powered phone chargers and presenting to the likes of Denish Dhamija, the founder of Ebookers.com. The trick is to start small at first and build up your links one at a time if necessary. You don't need to work with a Premier League club but you can approach smaller businesses. In my dealings with industry, they want to be involved and those businesses that don't are missing out.
Whenever a pupil writes a formal letter in an English lesson, that's work related learning. Screen-printing in Art? Yup, that too is work related learning. If you did an audit, department-by-department, you would be surprised how much of our curriculum is work related learning. How can it not be? When we are given the space and time to think (a difficulty in an educational system designed to always be chasing the next set of results) it is amazing what you can achieve for your students. It can also give them something to be proud of, a lasting legacy that they have had a hand in creating. Education needs to think more about what it can offer all their students, but it should be on our terms because if anyone knows their pupils best, it's their teachers. And I have not met many that do not, every single day, try to inspire their pupils.