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In the news - Andrew Colville

News | Published in TES Newspaper on 16 July, 2010 | By: Georgia Laird

This 40-year-old biology teacher works at Axe Valley Community College in Devon. The business and science college was the first school to exhibit at the Royal Society's Summer Science Exhibition, where Mr Colville and his pupils presented the school-run biofuel business to fellows of the organisation, alongside projects by leading research universities.

Let's get down to business

"About 18 months ago we applied to the Royal Society for a grant to set up a business: we convert used chip fat into biodiesel," says Mr Colville. "So far, we have sold 2,500 litres and made £1,300 in profit. One of our first investors was (celebrity cook) Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall - he is one of many locals ordering weekly."

So who's the brains behind it?

"I was in the pub chatting to a neighbour who was a lecturer at Exeter University ... half an hour later we had drafted an application (for a grant) to link up with the university and create this business. It was a happy accident. Now it is underway it's not up to me - the students engage in all aspects. Some deal with the chemicals, others work on the press team, some are in accounts and others are responsible for our website and marketing."

Extra pocket money, is it?

"We are currently creating a Dragons' Den-style competition at school where the profits will go towards the winner and the pupils creating a business. The students do it during lunchtimes and after school. They're not given the profits."

Tempted to ditch teaching?

"No, never. I prefer to be in the curriculum. This has pushed me out of my comfort zone. We have a huge shipping container on site and the pupils are dealing with ethanol, a highly toxic and extremely flammable substance. I had to write a 17-page risk assessment to get the go-ahead."

Did you face any other barriers?

"Many members of the senior management team said, 'You can't do that, it's too dangerous.' But I just thought, 'We're scientists, we manage risk.'"

Are they eating their words now?

"They say, 'You were always going to do it, weren't you?' I think they are happy to bask in the glory of it."

What glory do you get?

"The highlight is putting my trust into the pupils. They were outstanding, exceeding every expectation. The (Royal Society) fellows and the Duke of Kent who came to the exhibition couldn't believe they were schoolchildren - they thought they were postgraduates, or undergraduates at least."

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