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Game on with gains all round

School partnerships with industry are winning friends and influencing people, not least pupils and company staff, and group activities can enhance learning, writes Judy Mackie

Imagine you are a consortium of high-flying business people who have chosen to invest in the oil and gas industry. You have a mission statement and $100 million. You must prepare your business plan and make money.

That was the challenge facing six teams of sixth year students and teachers from three schools - Kincorth Academy in Aberdeen and Portlethen Academy and Westhill Academy in Aberdeenshire - who competed in a business game at the end of last term. The Oil Game, devised by oil and gas production company Kerr-McGee North Sea, offered participants an opportunity to access the inner circle of big business and experience the rollercoaster ride of shareholder investment.

Watching the boisterous groups clustered around computers, the Microsoft Excel based game appeared as noisily mystifying as the Stock Exchange. A buzz of excitement electrified the room.

During the three-hour competition, Harry Yorston, the game master and human resources and business services manager for Kerr-McGee, surprised the investors in their wheeling and dealing for shares of four oilfields with news releases about environmental incidents and offshore strikes.

"We're demonstrating the impact a whole range of external factors, quite aside from economic conditions, can have on investment decisions," he explained.

The students, teachers and business representatives were also experiencing a new phase in the development of three remarkable education-business partnerships that have caught the eye of both the Scottish Executive and Westminster MPs.

The first began in October 1998 with the pioneering partnership of Atlantic Power, the oil and gas production management specialists, and Kincorth Academy. It has survived several major changes, including two headteachers, three managing directors and three company name changes (it is now Petrofac).

Two years ago, a similar relationship was fostered between Kerr-McGee North Sea and Portlethen Academy, which led to the creation of the Oil Game last year.

Then, in October 2002, a partnership was launched between oil services company Technip Offshore UK and Westhill Academy.

The partnerships share the services of facilitator Ian Grant, Internet links provider Making the Connection and Aberdeen-based corporate communications company Fifth Ring, whose Adopt A School work pack is proving a strong model for developing long-term education-business relationships in Grampian and Fife.

Each partnership is unique in terms of its activities and goals, as Mr Grant explains. "While all three companies share similar drives, such as community involvement and staff development, the schools have differing reasons for getting involved. For example, one school wants their partnership to help raise pupil attainment, while another would like theirs to enhance the experience of high achievers. The joint projects differ from partnership to partnership as these are developed by the partners and address their particular requirements."

The projects include sports and social events and environmental activities such as tree planting in the case of Kerr-McGee and Portlethen Academy, a community gala day, annual awards ceremony and a mentoring programme for Petrofac-Kincorth Academy, and a major event management experience, visits by French nationals to language classes and support in cv preparation and interview skills for Technip Offshore-Westhill Academy.

Now, for the first time, the partnerships have shared a common activity.

The Oil Game allows students and staff to network across all the organisations involved and share their learning and experience as part of the education-business phenomenon.

Mr Grant hopes this will build into a wider programme of shared activities, involving more partnerships as they develop.

The initiative's success has impressed MPs and MSPs. The Chancellor, Gordon Brown, whose own Dunfermline East constituency has a partnership between Babcock of Rosyth and Inverkeithing Academy, praised the initiative in a special interview filmed in Downing Street by two Westhill Academy pupils and broadcast at the official Technip Offshore-Westhill Academy partnership launch in March.

Aberdeen South MP Anne Begg, who has followed the partnerships since their inception and presented trophies to the winning Oil Game teams, says:

"What's so good about these particular partnerships is it's not about a business handing over largesse to a school. It's about working together and the businesses helping the schools to help themselves, while at the same time benefiting in terms of staff development and community involvement."

Lewis Macdonald, Deputy Minister for Enterprise and Lifelong Learning, said after a recent visit to the partnerships by members of the Scottish Executive: "Such partnerships are excellent examples of creative and innovative local solutions that help young people gain a wide variety of enterprise thinking.

"As part of our Enterprise in Education strategy, we want our primary, secondary and special schools to develop closer links with local businesses and other organisations. The details of these will vary, since different approaches will suit different areas and circumstances. What is important is that they work and benefit both partners."

The results of the Oil Game - won by the Portlethen Academy pupils and the Kincorth Academy teachers - show collaboration certainly work for the schools.

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