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Case study: Bitterne Park school

Work-related learning has been central to Bitterne Park's success in raising standards. It's also encouraged our most adventurous period of curriculum development and gives every student an opportunity to reach his or her potential.

Much of the work experience happens as part of applied GCSEs. These introduce students to work-related learning and give them an overview of organisations and businesses. Students of all abilities are empowered to take responsibility for their learning and development, and pick up essential workplace skills. The vocational content of these exams cannot be over-emphasised and makes them significantly different to traditional GCSEs.

Bitterne Park is a popular 11-16 mixed comprehensive with a roll of 1,351 in a mixed residential area in north-east Southampton. Our work-related programme includes:

* A focused and relevant two-week experience of work for all Year 10 students.

* A full programme of applied GCSEs.

* Extended work experience for some key stage 4 students.

* Careers education and guidance focus days in collaboration with outside agencies.

* Young enterprise schemes.

* Collaborative programmes with further and higher education providers.

The school has well-established links with the Trident Trust, which manages the placements, health and safety and official paperwork for all Southampton secondary schools and which has firm links with local employers.

Work experience takes place two weeks before the Easter break, although the process of finding places for more than 250 students starts when Year 9 curriculum choices are finalised. In June, students taking applied GCSEs are advised to find a placement within the vocational area of their course.

Two weeks later, all other Year 9 students are given the chance to find a place. As a result, more than half of the year group set up their own experience of work.

In September, Trident representatives introduce parents, students and the year tutors to their procedures. Tutors manage the paperwork and return completed application forms to Trident by mid-October. The trust uses its database to match pupils to placements. Meanwhile, Year 10 tutors prepare students with basic skills for applications, telephone and interview techniques, health and safety issues, managing expectations and worries, assertiveness and target-setting. Teachers also outline coursework unit requirements.

Most students know where they'll be working by March. Teachers try to visit at least once to monitor progress and interview employer and pupil. Back at school, pupils are encouraged to evaluate their experience. By June, they've completed their reflections and logbooks that, along with employer and teacher reports, form part of their progress files.

Applied GCSEs are increasingly popular, with 65 per cent of the September 2004 cohort of 266 pupils selecting at least one. Pupils have visited IBM (business); the local swimming pool and power station (science); Southampton Football Club, De Vere hotel, Beaulieu Motor Museum, the airport (leisure and tourism); Southampton city art gallery (art); hospital, No Limits counselling service and play groups and nurseries (health and social care).

Pupils are motivated by the vocational element of applied GCSEs: they achieve the skills and attitudes they need for post-16 learningtraining (about 80 per cent of our students move to post-16 institutes); and grades are rising (a 16 per cent improvement in whole-school results to 57 per cent five passes at A*-C).

Carol Yates is a teacher at Bitterne Park school. She co-ordinates Year 10 work experience and is a Connexions personal adviser with responsibility for the careers education and guidance, PSHE and citizenship programmes

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