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Crocodile elicits snappy responses;Young Enterprise

The first Young Enterprise programme began 35 years ago in Chatham, Kent. Today year 10 pupils at the town's Walderslade Girls' High School are benefiting from Young Enterprise's latest venture - Project Business UK. The activity-based programme is run over nine weekly sessions with the help of volunteers from industry. It teaches 14 and 15-year-olds the basics of business, including supply and demand, banking, advertising, Britain's economy and the role of the consumer. There is also a visit to a company.

At Walderslade, two groups of girls took part in the sessions, led by their "business partners", two graduate production engineers from GEC.

They began with problem-solving sessions designed to get everyone working together. "They had a crocodile in a river, with the girls on one bank," says teacher Joyce Bland. "They had to work out how to get to a famous band on the other side.

"I couldn't believe all the wonderful ideas they were coming up with. It was fun and they soon learned to work as a team.

"They were able to work with their business partners in a completely different way to the way they work with a member of staff. The girls responded well to having someone there from industry."

John Matthews, Young Enterprise's development manager for Kent, has seen a dramatic growth in Project Business in the county since it was introduced two years ago. "In the first academic year we ran 30 classes. This year we ran 70 classes," he says.

"It's going extremely well. Businesses are very supportive - they like the idea and they can see the benefits working with schools and preparing young people for the world outside.

"But these days businesses are so slimmed down that it's hard to release somebody for one hour a week, plus travelling there and preparation time."

As well as focusing on practical activities, the ventures also widen the student's view of business. "We have had them link up with organisations such as Tesco and Sainsbury," says Mr Matthews. "These young people, who may be starting to think about what they want to do when they leave school, think that at a big retailer you either stack shelves or work on the till. They have no idea of the huge infrastructure that goes on behind the scenes. So this opens up all sorts of new ideas and career opportunities for them."

Ms Bland recalls two girls telling her they had applied for and got Saturday jobs after learning through Project Business how to fill in job applications. "It was great - I was really chuffed," she said. "That, to me, was a very positive response."

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