"I guess it all came from my disillusionment and disappointment with my industry and with education," says Alison Watson, the founder of Classofyourown. In 2009, Ms Watson gave up her job as a land surveyor to set up the charity, which aims to teach children about the importance of the construction industry and the wide range of opportunities available in it.
"I couldn't believe it," she explains. "There were all these wonderful school buildings but the kids knew nothing about them." More generally, she felt that children "didn't have a clue about professionals in construction".
Classofyourown provides workshops in secondary schools around the country, introducing children to the responsibilities and skills involved in running an environmentally friendly design company. Pupils fill the roles of managing directors, marketing managers, architects, surveyors and landscape designers as they draw up plans for an eco-friendly classroom.
If schools then want to build the classroom for real, they can: Accrington Academy in Lancashire is in the early stages of construction on a building designed by pupils in 2009.
On top of these individual projects, Classof-yourown has launched its "Design, Engineer, Construct" curriculum after a two-year pilot scheme run in 10 schools. At the end of the curriculum, pupils receive a diploma accredited by Edexcel through its project framework. The curriculum asks students to create a sustainable building. They have to tackle the same challenges faced by professionals and apply science, technology, engineering and mathematics to real-world problems. Work has also started on creating a full BTEC course.
"The biggest challenge for us has been to overcome the stigma attached to the construction industry" explains Ms Watson. "There was one grammar school that said to us, 'Our kids don't want to do a course in construction, it's not academic', and that is entirely not the case."
Classofyourown aims to show children that a job in construction is something to strive for, Ms Watson says. "We want to create aspirations, working with universities to inspire kids." Pupils receive half a GCSE at the end of the course - and "when you're 11 or 12 that's like having a PhD". Ms Watson adds that the project gives children "genuinely future-proof skills" as the construction industry is the largest employer in the world.
The pupil-led projects are different from those funded by the now-scrapped Building Schools for the Future (BSF) scheme, which stressed that students should be involved in the different phases of construction. "There are some very good examples (of BSF projects), but they are few and far between," Ms Watson says. "The 10 or 12 gifted and talented kids in the lead team might sit down with an architect for an hour. But a lot of it, from the contractor's point of view, was just ticking the box."
Tips from the scheme
- Do not panic. It is quite straightforward.
- Let the pupils do the talking.
Evidence that it works?
Classofyourown has received positive feedback and endorsements from the schools that have opted to use it. Eamon Robinson, design and technology teacher at Blessed Trinity RC College in Lancashire, says it has been "priceless" to see pupils involved in renovating a Grade II-listed schoolhouse. He adds that the experience has been rewarding for staff, himself included, as he got to see "real enthusiasm from the kids - and I know that this could set them up for life".
Approach: Helping pupils design their own sustainable construction project to show them the variety of opportunities available in the construction industry
Leader: Alison Watson, founder of charity Classofyourown.