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Crossing the divide

Gerald Haigh looks at one headteacher's mission to helps schools reap the full benefit of industrial placements. A primary headteacher I know recently spent two weeks working in a butcher's shop, cutting up stewing steak, making pies and trying to find 10 minutes in an 11-hour day for a cup of tea. I also know an infant headteacher who spent two weeks with a transport firm. The issue of which drivers were allowed the privilege of taking her on the road caused, I am told, seismic ructions throughout the company.

Industrial placements of all kinds are increasingly common. Mention them approvingly in a meeting and everyone nods enthusiastically.

To what extent, though, do schools take advantages of the benefits? How far do any lessons learned spread beyond the people directly involved?

It was questions such as these that occurred to Tamsyn Imison, head of Hampstead School, when she reflected on her own placement last Summer with the North West Thames Regional Health Authority. In a report on industrial placements prepared for the Open University this spring she writes: "I found that six months on, I had still done very little to make sure that my experience was shared. Even more alarming to me, as head, was finding that of the other 22 members of staff who had been out on industry placements only three reports had been written and that these were tucked away in a filing cabinet."

After looking further into this, Ms Imison found that lack of planning was preventing the full benefits of placements from being realised. She quotes Prue Huddleston, of Warwick University's Centre for Education and Industry: "The greatest single failing was that in very few cases had the placements grown out of the general objectives set for the school."

Ms Imison conducted a programme of interviews with colleagues involved in industrial placements in other schools, from which she drew up a list of the factors aimed at making the most of placements. These were: * a positive senior management team; * structured policy linked to SDP and professional development planning; * teams with joint planning; * accredited link with higher education; * a formal industry link; * use of UBI (Understanding British Industry) or similar agency; * use of external audit.

As a result of her findings, she is now trying hard to sell to schools the idea of putting their industrial-placement programme into the context of whole-school development. Taking advantage of her membership of the Council of the Secondary Heads Association, she has produced for SHA a flier to all members which asks "Do you get the most from your teacher placements in industry?" and incorporates both a list of significant factors and a list of aims based on those she has produced for Hampstead School (see box).

"Unless you link your teacher placements with a proper policy it's likely to be a waste of money. You really need to get it formally organised before you start because people go out with all the goodwill in the world - they have costly training and experience which actually doesn't bring in benefit. "

The danger then, she points out, is that "with tight budgets it's likely to disappear altogether. An awful lot of staff don't realise the cost of cover, for example. It's a massive investment."

Now Ms Imison has revised procedures at Hampstead School to support her commitment to industrial placements. "Obviously, if we're putting the investment in we expect a clear bonus for the school - it's the sort of thing that the Office for Standards in Education is looking at, after all."

Hampstead's aims.

* To support the school's aims by linking closely with the targets set out in the Institutional Development Plan.

* To support school teams in furtherance of their IDP targets.

* To further teachers' professional development targets as agreed by appraisal.

* To enlarge and enhance a teacher's professional experience.

* To develop an understanding of the nature of the world of work.

* To enhance the curriculum and the management of the school.

* To enhance business contacts of value to the school.

* To gain access to resources of value to the school.

* To develop and update teachers' skills of use in the classroom.

* To update information, advice and support for student career decisions.

* To increase work experience placements for students.

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